While Williams shrugs, Goodman is left hurt, dangling

September 08, 1999|By John Eisenberg

If you make a mistake, you pay for it. That's how most of the world operates.

But not Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams in the case of Tamir Goodman.

If Williams erred in prematurely offering a scholarship to Goodman last winter, he's not going to pay. There'd be no consequences for him.

Goodman, a high school senior, is the one who would pay.

Swell, huh? The coach gets to wash his hands and move on, and the kid is left to try to pick up the pieces.

It hardly seems fair, but Goodman already is paying in the wake of last week's Sun story about Williams possibly cooling on him after orally agreeing to offer him a scholarship when Goodman was a junior at Baltimore's Talmudical Academy.

The surprising development not only has humiliated Goodman, but also possibly damaged his stock with other coaches, whom he might soon need.

And what did Goodman do to deserve such treatment? He just agreed with Williams on his dream of a scholarship to Maryland. That's it. That was his sin -- no sin at all.

But as heartwarming as the story was before, it's clear now that the offer was a mistake by Williams -- a mistake for which Goodman will pay.

If it turns out Goodman wasn't the major-college star Williams envisioned, the mistake was in judgment. Williams just got swept up in the "Jewish Jordan" hype and overreacted to avoid losing the state's most-publicized high school player in years, albeit one with the troubling asterisk of limited experience against top competition.

And if Goodman does become a star, or even just a solid Division I player, Williams' mistake was in underestimating the dilemma of blending big-time basketball with Goodman's Orthodox Jewish religion, which prevents him from playing from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Whatever Williams thought before about the likelihood of Goodman's sticking to his principles, the issue wasn't going to go away. And rightly or not, Williams may have decided that Goodman just wasn't worth the trouble.

Bottom line, Williams would have regrets either way, no matter how Goodman turned out.

And because it's Williams' scholarship, one of 13 in his program, he can do what he wants with it.

No, you won't see him take back the offer. He has to take the high road. He can't break his promise.

But he also could see that the marriage falls apart, with Goodman conveniently being the one who breaks it up in the end, saying he doesn't want to go where he isn't wanted.

That process is already under way, it seems, with Maryland athletic department sources confirming Williams' wavering opinion of Goodman -- a development likely to sour Goodman's interest in the school.

Sure, there's always a chance Williams might change his mind and try to patch things up, especially if he gets enough heat from those concerned about how the story might play with the public. Goodman probably would accept such a reversal, even after last week's story. He wants to play for Williams and Maryland that badly.

But either way, no matter what happens, Williams won't suffer. Yes, he'd take a short-term public relations hit if Goodman moved on under these circumstances -- the kind of hit you take when you put the hammer to a high school senior, especially one with Goodman's admirable principles.

But Williams surely would rather take a hit now than the larger hit he'd take if Goodman came to Maryland and disappointed -- a disaster for everyone.

This way, the storm would pass quickly and eventually vanish, becoming just a footnote overwhelmed by Williams' latest 20-win season. You play the game to win at Maryland's level. Goodman's scholarship would just go to another top player, one without as many hassles, leaving Goodman to deal with the consequences. Sorry.

Goodman already has wasted the summer before his senior high school season, when many coaches make decisions about which recruits to chase. A knee injury undercut his summer, but it didn't help that he was deemed off-limits, property of Maryland.

And now that Maryland might be backing off, other coaches are going to wonder, too. What's the problem? Is it the knee injury? Goodman's slight build? His unavailability on Saturday afternoons?

As such scrutiny intensifies, Goodman's opportunities could shrink. It's hardly fair.

We're all familiar with the rise-and-fall cycle so prevalent in sports today, but to see it happening to a high schooler is nauseating.

Not that Goodman minded the avalanche of publicity that turned him into a national celebrity last winter and convinced Williams to take the bold leap of offering him a scholarship as a 160-pound junior. But it was probably too much then, and now it's all turning on him.

The good news is that Goodman still has his Orthodox faith and his priorities in order. No matter what happens, his world won't fall apart.

He also has time to impress other coaches and get a shot at another school, if it comes to that. No matter what anyone says, the kid can play. Really play. Another school would be lucky to get him.

But he wants to go to Maryland, and that's in doubt now, and, suddenly, it's no fun watching this fractured fairy tale unfold.

Pub Date: 9/08/99

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