UM recruit isn't 1st with past trouble

May 09, 2008|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

Allen Iverson had a profoundly successful two years at Georgetown. He went from all-rookie to All-American to first pick in the NBA draft.

But his success was hardly considered a given when John Thompson offered the guard a scholarship in April 1994. A year earlier, Iverson had been convicted on three felony counts in connection with a bowling alley brawl in his hometown of Hampton, Va. He had spent four months in prison before being granted clemency by Gov. L. Douglas Wilder.

Iverson's mother reached out to Thompson, figuring the coach could lend a strong hand in guiding her son. He in turn saw a young man who deserved a chance.

Iverson's pattern is the one college coaches hope for when they recruit gifted players with past legal troubles. If Maryland recruit Tyree Evans - with past misdemeanor convictions for assault and marijuana possession - can gain admission to school and follow a similar path, Terps basketball coach Gary Williams will be vindicated.

Every year, college coaches roll the dice on players considered "high-risk" by some. Plenty turn out to be good citizens and great players. Some continue to be headaches or worse.

There have been several local examples, positive and negative, in recent years.

In 2005, Towson accepted former Calvert Hall basketball standout Gary Neal after he was acquitted of rape charges. Neal was a good citizen at Towson, set the school's single-season scoring record and graduated to a professional career in Turkey.

In 2006, Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen rescinded a scholarship offer to Randallstown star Melvin Alaeze because of academic concerns and marijuana charges. Alaeze went to Illinois but left for personal reasons after less than two months. Last year, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in a shooting and robbery in Randallstown.

There are plenty more stories on the national stage. Most college coaches shied away from New York prep star Richie Parker after he pleaded guilty to sexual assault in 1995. But Long Island University coach Ray Haskins gave Parker a chance and got a solid four-year player who never got into trouble again.

Quarterback Colt Brennan had a brilliant career at Hawaii after he was found guilty of second-degree burglary and first-degree criminal trespass during a walk-on year at Colorado.

Florida State accepted wide receiver Randy Moss after Notre Dame had pulled his scholarship because he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge for his role in a high school fight. But the Seminoles had to dismiss Moss after he admitted to smoking marijuana in violation of his probation. He ended up having great success in a third chance at Marshall and in the NFL.

Jay Bilas, an analyst for ESPN and a practicing attorney, has no problem with coaches taking chances on players.

"I think you have to look at the character of the individual and whether that individual fits what you're trying to do and your mission and go from there," he said.

Bilas noted the success at Duke of Shelden Williams, who was kicked off his high school team after being accused of sexual assault (he was never charged).

Coaches say it's important not to lump together all players with legal questions in their records.

Towson coach Pat Kennedy said it would be unfair to equate his former player, Neal, with Evans or others who've been convicted of crimes.

"He had no past history of anything, and he was found innocent of all charges, so what other conclusion could you reach but that he deserved a chance?" Kennedy said.

Neal had already enrolled at Towson, so when Kennedy decided he wanted the player in his program, he referred the case to the school's administration. After a panel investigated the charge against Neal, he was allowed to play.

Kennedy said that he's a firm believer in granting second chances to players with past discipline and academic troubles.

"If you give these kids the support they need, a lot of times you end up with great stories," he said. Kennedy noted that many students have troubles in their past and that athletes are often singled out.

The college coach must gain a complete understanding of the player's personality and circumstances, said AAU coach Boo Williams, who has mentored Iverson and hundreds of other gifted players from Virginia's peninsula cities.

Williams had known Iverson since he was 10 years old and like many, believed the bowling alley brawl was a complex, racially charged situation that did not reflect the player's nature. He was impressed that Thompson took the time to understand Iverson, the incident and all the people around him.

"I didn't consider it a risk, because I knew the kid," he said. "And Coach Thompson wanted to know everything about him. You've got to know the kid. It's a feel that you develop."

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