Big mistake

Williams should never have pursued troubled ex-Terps basketball recruit

On Tyree Evans

May 24, 2008|By RICK MAESE

If only we could collectively lean back, cross our arms, share a sigh and agree: Whew, crisis averted. Right?

The sharpshooting Tyree Evans, his criminal record and his academic resume, will never set foot in College Park. The official line is this: The pressure became too much, and Evans, a promising basketball recruit from Richmond, Va., begged out.

Which isn't so hard to believe. I'm sure Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams finally realized there was no way Evans was getting admitted, and he surely let Evans know. The carefully orchestrated announcement yesterday that Evans is being released from his letter of intent was an attempt to save face - for Evans and for Maryland basketball. Unfortunately, for the Terps at least, it was a failed attempt.

With a two-paragraph announcement, Maryland dropped the news Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, when questions might be few and those available to answer them even fewer. But make no mistake, no one comes out of this one looking good. Evans faces an uncertain future. Williams has to deal with the fact that he's not as invincible as he once was and his program is still in dire need. And everyone in the athletic department will come to work next week to the reality that the school's highest-paid employee either doesn't understand good sense and proper procedure, or he doesn't care.

Consider this entire fiasco Exhibits X,Y and Z on how far the program has fallen in recent years.

The strangest part about the whole mess is that everyone seems to be in the dark about something. Athletic director Debbie Yow said she didn't know the Terps were recruiting a player with a troubled past. Evans had said he thought his budding Terps career was all signed, sealed and delivered. And now Williams apparently wasn't certain just how long Evans' criminal record was until just a few days ago.

There were three charges against Evans that were previously reported by The Sun, SI.com and the Richmond Times-Dispatch: misdemeanor marijuana possession, a statutory rape charge that was pleaded down to misdemeanor assault, and a single charge of trespassing. (Williams has said he knew about these charges while recruiting Evans; Yow has said she was not made aware until late in the process.)

School officials, though, stumbled upon two more charges, stemming from a November 2005 traffic stop in Cecil County: possession of marijuana and having a handgun in a vehicle. Evans pleaded guilty to the marijuana charge, and prosecutors chose not to pursue the gun charge.

While some fans, boosters and alumni were hollering for Evans' second chance, isn't it clear that this young man has exhausted a second, a third, a fourth and even a fifth chance? Evans' recruitment wasn't botched by anything done in the past month by either the admissions or athletic departments. It all stems from Evans' past.

Drugs, guns, assault? Think about that for a second. The Maryland men's basketball program invited a young man on campus who we hope has reformed himself but who would've come with far too much risk. In this post-Virginia Tech world, anyone with a gun charge in his or her background is too much of a liability.

How do you explain to a mom and dad who are shelling out more than $30,000 a year for their kid to attend school that the 23-year-old junior in the next dorm over was admitted with so much baggage? Yeah, but you should see him shoot the three. And heaven forbid, how would you defend the decision if there was some unfortunate or tragic relapse in the recruit's behavior?

Assigning responsibility isn't easy. Most athletic departments do not routinely perform criminal background checks on all of their athletes. Should a college coach be expected to know the entire history of every recruit?

It's a tough question, and there might not be a perfect answer. But we know nothing about the recruit and his history changed in the past month. What was unpredictable and ever-changing was the way Williams and his staff handled the recruitment. If they would've widened their circle and invited others into the conversation, they could've nipped this in the bud weeks ago. Someone would've noted that his criminal history was a red flag, and they would've done an actual background check and learned the full extent of Evans' history.

Instead, everyone seemed surprised at just how long Evans' rap sheet really was.

It wasn't long ago that Terps football coach Ralph Friedgen was hot on the trail of a troubled recruit of his own, Randallstown's Melvin Alaeze. Marijuana-related charges scared Friedgen off - and rightly so, it turns out. Alaeze is serving an eight-year prison sentence for his role in a shooting and robbery.

This isn't to say that every troubled young man is the same. But the procedures coaches and athletic officials use to evaluate them probably should be. Evans' recruitment should have never reached this point.

The stunning thing today isn't that Williams didn't get his man. It's that he wanted him in the first place.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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