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Not the best time to be around college basketball

September 14, 2012 Columns No Comments
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I often tell people that September is the second-best month of the year, and basketball has a lot to do with it. A lot gets done with some fall showcases, prep school visits and fall leagues in effect, in addition to college basketball being right around the corner. Right now, though, is not a good time for college basketball.

College basketball has been beset with bad news lately. There are always players declared academically ineligible around this time of the year, which is never good news, but there’s more than that going on and that’s why this has been a difficult stretch.

There’s Billy Gillispie at Texas Tech, a situation that looks more and more like it will end with a head coach out of a job. North Carolina has seen academic questions arise within one department. Arch-rival Duke is now in the news as a lawsuit was filed against former Blue Devil Lance Thomas from a purchase he made while a senior at the school. Now, we even have the Ivy League in the news in a bad way, as Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry have withdrawn from Harvard for this year after being implicated in an academic dishonesty scandal that has spanned much wider than just basketball players.

All this, and we still have nearly a month to go until the start of practice. In other words, it’s still early yet and a lot more can happen.

Billy Gillispie may be a dead coach walking right now. As the story develops, it appears he has committed secondary NCAA violations with regard to practice time and also mistreated some of his players. What’s worse is that this doesn’t appear to be something new for him. While he appears to have some health concerns right now, the bigger problem is that more details are emerging that aren’t favorable to him. It wouldn’t be a shocker if he is not employed by the school when practice begins.

The story with Lance Thomas seems like a strange one, but it could be a landmark case. Thomas bought nearly $100,000 worth of jewelry in Manhattan with just $30,000 down, with the rest being in credit. The store extended the credit for just 15 days, which seems strange considering his financial situation was virtually certain not to change in that time since it was early in his senior season. There are many questions all around the case and for all involved parties, so it’s anyone’s guess how this turns out. But it’s not great news to be hearing.

At Harvard, the story is no less depressing. The details are quite murky, and an investigation is ongoing. No one, including Casey and Curry, has been deemed guilty of anything. The reason for their withdrawal is the way the Ivy League schools work as far as eligibility goes; it is a risk management move for both. It deals a big blow to Harvard’s hopes to repeat as Ivy League champs, but that’s not what matters. What matters is what is making news in the first place and going beyond basketball since this involved students who are not athletes.

Hearing about academic dishonesty is never good and especially at the premier institution of higher learning. Harvard’s president is correct that this goes far beyond athletes, but the context has to be considered: athletes are in the news often because their lives are of interest to many in the general public. What’s even worse is that one of the two implicated, Casey, is quite simply one of the best kids in college basketball. You want so desperately to believe that’s the extent of it, that in the end he will be among those exonerated. And that’s why the news was so stunning when it broke.

College basketball fans are still weary with conference maneuvering, especially as very little of it makes much sense. This spat of bad news can be almost depressing, especially knowing there could be more of it around the corner.

Yet the game will go on. We will still have great stories among the players, coaches and teams that compete, and we’ll find plenty to like. The season will remain enjoyable and March will remain the best month of basketball. Still, that doesn’t make this stretch any easier to take, and it’s understandable if a college hoops fan is feeling a little blue at times lately. Right now, the second-best month of the year doesn’t feel very much like that.

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