I hate to see a young player get caught in a scandal; and OJ Mayo's business recently got put on blast, as you probably know.
A member of his "entourage", Robert Guillory, told ESPN that Mayo has taken money from a runner (intermediary) for an agent or agency group, so that when he finished his freshman year of college (and decided to go pro as everyone knows he would) Mayo would sign with that agency group. Yes, that's kind of sleazy. And yes, Mayo shouldn't take the money, because it's supposed to be against the rules.
When Mayo got outed, everyone had an opinion, and wanted to attribute blame. Here, blame should have a strong corrective function - to make the public aware of whose "fault" it is, and therefore give us all a villain in this crime.
Some writers, like the ever-opinionated (and that's a good thing) Gary Parrish used the "upbringing" canard. Okay; upbringing certainly has something to do with what a young player does and how he's on the take. But the opposing ideal that Parrish mentions?
Kevin Love, another one-and-done college player out of UCLA. His uncle and cousins are members of the Beach Boys; Love is white; and his father is a retired basketball player and they're not poor.
Mayo, on the other hand, has not apparently had much family around him.
Parrish intimates that this kind of relationship that the older man (Guillory) had with Mayo could be prevented by simply having parents around. Like the players with a parent around aren't getting gifts? Does Parrish think the gifts stop with the free shoes that every high end player gets just for playing on an Amateur Athletic Union team? How is it these kids can travel, if many of them are poor, anyway? It's certainly, certainly not just Mayo.
Stephen A Smith, in a fit (or return to?) solid writing, makes the point: What's the big deal?
To me, a big deal is the player who continues to be violent off the court, the kind of player who steals from others or otherwise commits criminal acts. Or the player receiving money from gamblers to shave points or throw games. This whole player-receiving-payments? The kind of thing that happened at St. John's? And at Ohio State? And at numerous other schools, whether publicized or not?
Certainly, I don't want to see players taken advantage of. There has to be some way of educating players on how to make and keep their stacks of loot. And the ability of boosters to pay a player has an effect in bringing top level talent to schools.
But if the school is not involved? If it's just the player? The NCAA should get involved when the allegations come to light, but we should not all pretend like we're all shocked about it.
Dudes are getting paid. It's unsavory. But it's not an example of the poorest of poor character. It's not high character, either. But it is what it is; a part of the game.
In related news, Michael Beasley has been often tacked with the same issues - "character questions, "upbringing." Jeffrey Martin of the Wichita Eagle writes a good article which sums up a lot of what's open knowledge about Beasley - he's a freaking kid! He's 19! He's not yet a man (Coach Gundy video)! But he's not a menace to society. He doesn't pay attention to authority figures... like so many other people. He tagged some bumpers. He's just a goofball. How old do you want him to be, to paraphrase Beasley himself?
And here is private investigator Michael Buckner, who would like to make money assisting the BCS conference schools in vetting their choices of players:
A Division I university has time and resources for only so much. A typical school might welcome 200 new student-athletes on campus each fall. The colleges ensure each academically qualifies, but most don't do thorough background checks on every recruit. That's part of the reason Maryland offered a basketball scholarship to Tyree Evans last month without knowing the extent of his criminal history. (After much scrutiny and the revelation of five criminal charges, Evans withdrew his application last week.) In cases like Evans', all you might need is a computer, Internet access and about 10 minutes to pull up court records.
In Mayo's case, his circle of suspect characters had been noted in media reports for a couple of years. Buckner said if the information and allegations that have been reported prove to be true, the circumstances surrounding Mayo's missteps could have been discovered long before ESPN cameras played gotcha journalism and long before Mayo had even put on a USC jersey.
"Our services will provide the USCs of the world a resource where we can go out and do the legwork, the proper due diligence of these blue-chip, high-profile prospects," Buckner said. "That way, the prospect and his or her family are cleared of any type of rumors or innuendo out there, the school is protected, and if there's anything that comes up later on, they can say, 'Hey, we did everything within our power to make sure we complied with NCAA rules.'"
It's too early to tell whether schools will take advantage of this new service, but Buckner said he plans on blanketing the remaining Division I universities with information next week.
What will this service entail? It will have to include more than legal information, for a player like OJ Mayo has never been convicted of or accused of anything (though the referee incident in Mayo's high school game (video) indicates a problem... though the ref clearly flopped). Will it delve into the "value structure?" Who the parents are? Their ability to be financially compromised? Whether anyone in the player's circle knows "Worldwide Wes?" And of course, who pays for this work? Will this be public? Semi-public?
And a strong reason why this will never make money: one private source will know which players are getting extra gifts (and phone calls) from schools, who has boosters looking into getting so and so's parents a job conveniently near campus... the schools don't want to stop all that, do they? Because it'll affect which players come to that school.
But Buckner couldn't have helped Gary Williams and Maryland with vetting Tyree Evans who recently asked out of his letter of intent to Maryland's basketball team. The information on Evans was out there, from when Huggy-Bear wanted to recruit him to Kansas State, to his statutory rape arrest with teammates when he was a Cincinnati recruit, and on and on. More information on Evans here, including an excellent Luke Winn piece in Sports Illustrated.
Because issues or not, a coach with a dearth of talent, even a 600 win coach, knows that you're only as good as your last few years. And Williams' recruiting and on-court results have been mediocre in recent seasons; a coach will take whatever steps necessary to bring in high-end talents.
"Upbringing" be damned. Relationships be damned. The only thing that keeps a coach employed is winning.