Nov 16, 2010

Where Are They Now?

Play Their Hearts Out has been out for more than a month, which means a few people might have actually finished it. Some readers may be curious what the boys I wrote about are up to now. Here's the first of several updates I hope to do throughout the season:

DEMETRIUS WALKER is enrolled at the University of New Mexico and sitting out this season after transferring from Arizona State. (NCAA rules require that he sit out one season.) He had knee surgery a few weeks back to repair a torn meniscus in one knee, and then had surgery on the other as well. He says the second procedure was minor and he expects to be working out again at full speed in a couple weeks. Demetrius got a copy of the book months before it came out. His thoughts on it can be found here, in an interview with Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic:

Another PTHO kid, KENDALL WILLIAMS, who was a minor character in the book, is also at New Mexico and should be a valuable reserve for the team as a freshman. He scored seven points with four assists in 20 minutes in the season-opener versus Detroit.

AARON MOORE, one of the more tragic figures in the book, is enrolled at Valley College in San Bernardino, Calif. and I saw him play in a game in San Francisco on Nov. 5. He looked good, a little rusty and out of shape, but I have no doubt that if he plays a full season and keeps his grades in order he will get scholarship offers from some mid-major Division I programs. I haven't spoken to Aaron in a few weeks – he and his mom are upset with how they were portrayed in the book – so I can't say how he is doing off the court. Those who have read the book know Aaron has had many failed restarts; I'm hoping he sticks with it at Valley College and finds a happy ending.

ROBERTO NESLON is still at Oregon State, and should play this season after sitting out of all of last year as a partial-qualifier (Translation: some of his high school credits didn't transfer and he wasn't eligible to play per NCAA rules.) He should finally be cleared to play by Dec. 12. Oregon State coach Craig Robinson has been talking him up for a long time and for good reason. JOE BURTON, or "Indian Joe" as Joe Keller once called him, is also at Oregon State. He averaged 4.7 points and 4.5 rebounds last season, numbers that will likely double as he assumes a bigger role this year.

A knee injury suffered by UNLV senior guard Kendall Wallace, the team's three-point specialist, has opened the door for JUSTIN HAWKINS to be a major contributor in his second season. He won't start, but he will be one of the first guards off the bench, and if he can fill Wallace's role as an outside threat I expect him to see 20-plus minutes a game. (He played 25 in the opener against UC-Riverside, scoring nine points to go with four steals.) This past summer, Justin went to China as part of Athletes in Action. Justin's younger brother, MARCUS, who I mention briefly in the book, is a freshman at Penn, and I fully expect to be working for him someday. He's a brilliant kid. 

ANDREW BOCK, the Inland Stars' original point guard played for Creighton last season but didn't see a lot of minutes despite the fact that when he did get in games he appeared to be more talented than the veteran guards on the roster. As a result, he transferred to the University of Pacific (which is in my hometown of Stockton, Calif.), where he is sitting out this year per NCAA transfer rules.

After leaving the prep school affiliated with the Air Force Academy, JORDAN FINN enrolled at Nevada, where he is on scholarship this season. The coaches at Nevada considered redshirting Jordan but he played so well during the preseason -- 15 points in 18 minutes in one exhibition game – that plan was scraped. (In Nevada's opener against Pacific, he scored six points and played 18 minutes.) I plan on attending the rivalry game between Justin's UNLV team and Jordan's Nevada team in Reno on Dec. 4. Here is an interview Jordan did with Nevada's website:

GARY FRANKLIN is at Cal, and given the Bears depleted roster from last season, he will play a vital role. I will see Gary play a lot this year as he is just across the Bay Bridge from my home in San Francisco. I'm hoping to watch an early game with his dad, Gary. Sr., and Cal alumnus/honk Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports, so I can introduce Mike to the father of the next great Bears guard. A minor character in the book, JUSTIN COBBS, transferred to Cal from Minnesota and is sitting out this season.

I talked to PE'SHON HOWARD and his dad, Bill, and Pe'Shon is reading PTHO right now, although slowly because of school and basketball responsibilities at Maryland. He was one of the more astute kids in the book and I may do a long post sharing his thoughts when he is done reading. Pe'Shon was the second guy off the bench for the Terrapins in their opening-season victory over the College of Charleston and he excelled, scoring 15 points, including the game-winning shot with three seconds left. Pe'Shon was clutch when he was a 12-years-old, and nothing has changed.

TERRAN CARTER is scheduled to graduate from Pierce College this spring, Terran played football in the fall and is again playing basketball. Cal-State Northridge, which offered him a scholarship out of high school, is recruiting him again as are several Division II schools.

DARIUS MORRIS started and scored 17 points in Michigan's opener. He should build on his strong freshman season and have a breakout year. He's one of the more versatile guards in the Big 10.

If CRAIG PAYNE gets his academics in order, expect him to be playing football for Arizona, Arizona State or Oregon State next season. He is a 6-foot-5, 282-pound defensive end at Mt. San Antonio College in Southern California. Of the schools recruiting him, I hear Arizona is making the hardest push.

Like Aaron, ROME DRAPER JR. is tough to get in touch with these days. A month ago, he said he planned to enroll at a community college up in Washington and that he had some Division I schools tracking him. He didn't end up at that school and I'm told he is crashing at various friends' homes in Southern California. I've heard some others things I don't feel comfortable writing, and so I will just say this: I'm worried about Rome and I hope he can get back on track.

G.J. VILARINO, who once verbally committed to Kentucky, then played last season for Gonzaga, is now at Appalachian State, and will sit out this season as a transfer. His father told me he is happy and loves his new coach, Jason Capel, the former North Carolina player.

I haven't spoken to TOMMY STANGL or his dad, Tom Sr., recently, and I was told that they weren't happy with the book. I do know that Tommy is playing this season at Loyola University in New Orleans, an NAIA school, and has started all their games thus far. Also, in the book his name is incorrectly spelled "Stengel," which was due to a fact-checking mix-up.

LaBRADFORD FRANKLIN made a brief, two-minute appearance in San Diego State's victory over Long Beach State to open the season

Nov 11, 2010

Pe'Shon Howard is Clutch

Anyone who has read PTHO knows that Pe'Shon Howard has been a clutch player since he was 12. So, it comes as no surprise that in his first college game he hit a game-winning shot with 3 seconds left to save Maryland. Here's a link to the school's highlight video. The Pe'Shon Show begins at about the two-minute mark.


Oct 17, 2010

Midnight Madness
With the official start of practice for NCAA teams, several of the boys from Play Their Hearts Out began their freshman or sophomore seasons. Here is a photo from the Las Vegas Sun of one of those players: Justin Hawkins, who is a sophomore at UNLV. Anyone who has read the book knows that Justin is one of the truly great kids playing in college today.

Oct 7, 2010

UCLA and Ohio State NCAA Violations

Play Their Hearts Out is not a book loaded with "gotcha" newsbreaks. It is an eight-year journey, and along the way some events and conversations may surprise people, but these aren't the kind of revelations that lead to big headlines.

There are two bits of news, however, that I feel should be addressed by those involved, and I am curious to see if the local media that cover UCLA and Ohio State take note.

In chapter 31 (Yes, I know, there are a lot of chapter in PTHO), I detail the different ways some of the boys were recruited by colleges. One of the players I focus on is Roberto Nelson, who is now at Oregon State. Roberto was the most sought after of the boys and UCLA and Ohio State were among his suitors. Each school committed an NCAA violation while pursuing him, which I describe on pages 376 & 377. Here is the relevant passage:

The Bruins recruited Roberto hard – they made phone calls, sent emails, scouted his AAU games – but as his junior year began, he had yet to be formally offered a scholarship. Coach Ben Howland told Bruce Nelson he was concerned about Roberto's grades and wanted to see how he scored on the SAT. Howland's hesitancy probably had more to do with wanting to see how Roberto and other players developed; no sense in offering him a scholarship before it was necessary.  That didn't stop Howard from committing an NCAA violation regarding permissible contact. In certain months, coaches are allowed to call a recruit or his family only once. In one of these months, and after a UCLA coach had already spoken to Roberto, Howland called Bruce. "I didn't know it was him until I answered the phone because the number had a Santa Barbara area code," Bruce said. "Ben said he was up in Santa Barbara visiting people, and we talked about maybe getting together while he was in town." Howland had never called Bruce from a Santa Barbara number before. "I guess he knew that if used his UCLA phone, then people could find out he called me."

Ohio State didn't couch their interest in Roberto. Coach Thad Matta offered him a scholarship when he visited campus for the Ohio State-Michigan football game in November, and one of assistants began working with Bruce to make sure Roberto had the course credits he needed to be eligible to play for the Buckeyes as a freshman. He reviewed Roberto's transcripts and advised Bruce on what summer school courses Roberto should take. Like UCLA, Ohio State also violated an NCAA rule pursuing Roberto: Former Ohio State player and CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg called Bruce and lobbied on behalf of his alma mater. (As a former Ohio State player he was forbidden under NCAA guidelines from contacting recruits or their families.) "I heard that the missing piece to the puzzle was a kid in California," Kellogg told Bruce.

I realize these allegations aren't going to set off alarm bells at the NCAA, but it would be interesting to hear a response from UCLA and Ohio State.


Oct 3, 2010

Joe then and now

I got a call from Joe Keller the other day after he read the excerpt from Play Their Hearts Out in Sports Illustrated. I knew this call was coming, the conversation when Joe would curse and threaten me (with a lawsuit). I expected it to come after he read the entire book, but all it took was the excerpt. Joe is reading the book now, I assume, as I Fedexed a copy to him last week. It will be interesting to see if he calls me again.

Joe is not the same person today that he was when I started following him in 2000 or when he dropped out of the narrative in 2007, and I think that will contribute to his dissatisfaction with how he is portrayed in the book. He is calmer now, less competitive, not so blinded by his ambitions. He has reached his goals, and that has mellowed him. He’s likely to read PTHO and say, “That’s not me!” and he wouldn’t be wrong. But in the period of time covered in the book, when Joe rose up in grassroots basketball and found financial success, he was not always likeable. He got dirty on his way to the top, and I couldn’t sugarcoat that in the narrative.

I like Joe much more now than when I first met him – our conversations aren’t so one-sided and he’s more reflective – yet I doubt we will be talking much going forward. The book is filled with stories of Joe casting away players and other people he didn’t need anymore or who burned him.

Sadly, I think it may be my turn.

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