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SoCalHoops Recruiting News

Reader Poll:  Is The LA Daily News
"Out Of Control?"--(Apr. 5, 2001)

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This is what appeared on the front page of the Daily News today. . .

In an article in today's edition of the Los Angeles Daily News (which was also carried in the other papers published by the Los Angeles Newsgroup, e.g., the Pasadena Star-News, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, etc), staff writer Billy Witz writes that both Errick Craven of Bishop Montgomery and Jamal Williams of Corona Centennial have said that they either met with or spoke to UCLA Head Coach Steve Lavin during times when such contact was not permitted under NCAA recruiting rules.

The story also refers to anonymous "sources" who are alleged to have stated that the charges were first made in "anonymous" e-mails sent to three administrators at UCLA and to Arn Tellem, Lavin's attorney. The Daily News claims to have a copy of the "anonymous" e-mail letter but does not reproduce it.

The story essentially details three types of alleged violations:

1.  Alleged Improper Contact With Errick Craven:  

The Daily News story claims that Errick Craven, who signed with his brother at crosstown rival USC told Witz that "UCLA coach Steve Lavin met with him around March of last year at his high school coach's office."  College coaches are prohibited from contacting recruits off the college campus until July 1 after the player's junior year.   The story claims that Errick Craven

said he met with Lavin three times before July 1 of his junior year. Twice he visited UCLA with his mother on unofficial trips and met with Lavin in his office. Such visits are permissible under NCAA rules. The other visit occurred at Bishop Montgomery. "Lavin came up to my school," Craven said. "He was talking about if I went there what kind of role I'd play." Craven committed to USC in early July, shortly after UCLA's interest waned because it wasn't willing to also offer a scholarship to Derrick.

2. Alleged Improper Contact with Jamaal Williams

Jamal Williams (6'-5" Sr. F), a senior at Centennial High of Corona, is reported to have said that UCLA coaches called him "all the time" at home during his junior year. NCAA rules state schools may not contact recruits by phone until June 21st after their junior year of high school.

Williams, the Centennial player, said in two separate interviews that UCLA coaches phoned his home during his junior year in high school, with assistant coach Michael Holton usually calling. Calls to Holton, who was named head coach at the University of Portland on Tuesday, were not returned. "(UCLA) acted like they really wanted me," said Williams of his junior season. "As the year went on, they still showed interest. All of a sudden, in the summer they acted like they weren't interested. They were calling me all the time, then the summer came and I didn't hear from them."  Williams signed a letter of intent with New Mexico last November. "I tried to ask them what was going on. They said they wanted to watch me play some more. When it came time to make commitments and sign, they acted like they had no interest."

3. Alleged Improper Contact with Cedric Bozeman and Jamal Sampson:

Thirdly, the story also recounts that an unidentified "eyewitness" told the Daily News that on at least two occasions, Lavin spoke to two other players -- Cedric Bozeman and Jamal Sampson, on the cell phone of club coach Pat Barrett last spring.   Both Sampson and Bozeman denied the allegations, and Barrett "could not be reached for comment."

Last spring, when the contacts were alleged to have taken place, UCLA's basketball program was reeling. JaRon Rush, Jerome Moiso and Jason Kapono each announced they were leaving school for the NBA (Kapono later changed his mind) and the Bruins' last two recruiting classes had produced only two players of note -- Kapono and T.J. Cummings. Also, Bozeman, considered one of the state's top prospects, had backed off an oral commitment to UCLA he'd made prior to his junior season. Sampson, Bozeman and Josh Childress -- all of whom played for Barrett -- and Craven and Williams were all high on UCLA's recruiting list. (The e-mail sent to Dalis claims Childress, from Mayfair High of Lakewood and a longtime friend of Sampson, also was contacted through Barrett; Childress, who has signed a letter of intent with Stanford, did not return messages left at his home.)

Bozeman said he's never talked to Lavin on Barrett's cell phone. "No. No. No," he said. "You must be getting wrong information."   Bozeman said he couldn't recall the first time Lavin called him. "To tell you the truth, it was a long time ago," Bozeman said.

Sampson, who signed a letter of intent with Cal in November, also said he never spoke with Lavin through Barrett. "There's no need to go through (Barrett)," he said. "I was either here (at home) or at school." In an interview last month, Sampson said he might have spoken with Lavin during the spring of 2000 but couldn't recall any details. Sampson said this week he occasionally talked to Lavin during his junior year from the office of Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight, but the conversations were permissible because Sampson initiated the calls. NCAA rules permit recruits to call college coaches at any time. "If (Lavin) called coach McKnight and I walked into the office, I'd call him back and say hi so it wouldn't be against the rules or anything," Sampson said. "Coach McKnight would usually have us call him back. I've talked to (Lavin) for a while but never when he was calling us."

Anonymous E-Mails and Unnamed "Eyewitnesses"

The Daily News story claims that UCLA was made aware of the above allegations through an "anonymous e-mail" sent last week to three "UCLA senior administrators: vice chancellor Peter Blackman, athletic director Peter Dalis and associate athletic director Betsy Stephenson. The letter also was previously sent to Lavin's attorney, Arn Tellem."  While the article states that the Daily News obtained a copy of the e-mail, the paper did not reproduce it, nor purport to quote from it.

The Daily News also interviewed UCLA Atheltic Director Pete Dalis, who "dismissed the letter as not credible."

"We interviewed our whole staff," said Dalis, who added that no one in his department had examined the coaches' phone records as a result of the e-mail. "My coaches have denied it. They've assured me that it didn't happen. Its clear that someone's attempting to destroy the program."

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And here's the poll. . . note the disclaimer: "This is not a scientific poll". . . we can't wait to read the results in tomorrow's edition

The interesting thing about the Daily News story is that it's also accompanied by a small front page box appearing on the first page of the newspaper, with a photo of a perplexed-looking Lavin, asking readers to phone in with a "yes" or "no" response to the question "Is the UCLA Basketball Program Out Of Control?"

So who, if anyone is out to "destroy the program?"  

Could it be the Daily News?  Nah. . . .

Maybe, maybe not.  But the Daily News is certainly digging for dirt and they're being pretty insistent about reviewing records and following up on leads which might cause further woes for UCLA.  The Daily News also described attempts to followup on requests for the athletic department's phone records under public freedom of information laws. The Daily News noted that:

In December, UCLA denied a public-records request by the Daily News to examine Lavin's phone records and the basketball office phone logs of calls to recruits that the school is required to maintain. An attorney for the university stated some phone calls are exempt from disclosure and determining which numbers are exempt would be excessively burdensome.

And about the source of information regarding the "anonymous e-mail?"   It's none other than that perfectly reliable and unimpeachable "eyewitness" who would speak only "on condition of anonymity":

The eyewitness, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, provided the Daily News with a specific time and date when he said one of the calls involving Barrett's cell phone took place. UCLA declined a request Wednesday to allow the paper to examine Lavin's phone records.

You gotta love it.  "Eyewitnesses" who can't be impeached because they can't be identified?  Anonymous e-mails.  Maybe it was found in a pumpkin out behind the barn. . . . by Whittaker Chambers. . .oops, wrong decade.  Are you now or have you ever been a member of the ________ [fill in the blank] party. . . 

The balance of the Witz article in today's Daily News goes on to detail the differences between a "major" and "minor" violations, including quotes from NCAA spokeswoman Jane Jankowski to the effect that multiple secondary violations can be considered a major violation. . . As if all this wasn't enough, the article then goes on to remind readers that UCLA is just coming off the NCAA three-year probation which resulted from the recruiting violations which occurred when Jim Harrick was fired in November 1996.  Whether this next quote from the article is supposed to be a statement of fact (i.e., reporting) or the opinion of the author isn't made clear.  Nevertheless, if accurate, this latest incident might prove to either be just a major distraction or the straw that breaks the camel's back:

"However, if any major violations are uncovered at UCLA within five years of the April 30, 1998, date of the basketball sanctions, the school would be considered a repeat violator. As such, UCLA would be subject to severe
sanctions."

Maybe someone over at UCLA should hire an investigator to investigate the investigators before there is further irreparable damage. . . .

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