Originally created 03/07/03

Inquiry bothers coaches



Like most other basketball coaches in the Southeastern Conference, South Carolina's Dave Odom considers Jim Harrick a friend. He respects Harrick professionally, and he likes Harrick's family.

That doesn't keep Odom or his peers from worrying about the possible ramifications of the NCAA investigation of Harrick's program at Georgia. They say another black eye is the last thing the league - or college basketball - needs.

"Certainly I'm concerned; I think any coach would be," Odom said from his office Thursday afternoon. "You just don't want situations that are going to be pervasive and are going to take away from the integrity of the sport."

The integrity of Harrick's four-year career at Georgia has been in peril since last week, when former player Tony Cole claimed Harrick and his son, Jim Harrick Jr., committed major NCAA violations by providing improper financial benefits and academic assistance.

Harrick Jr. was fired Wednesday, and the worst might be yet to come. The NCAA and the school are investigating, and there are rumblings across the SEC that the elder Harrick will soon be fired - perhaps before Sunday's regular-season finale at South Carolina.

Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson let out a bemused chuckle when he heard the phrase - "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying" - that has often been associated with the SEC.

Saddled with a reputation as a league whose football and basketball programs cut corners, the SEC is trying to rid itself of the label. Peterson knows the mess at Georgia will deepen the negative image.

"It's not pretty," said Peterson, in his second year as the Volunteers' coach. "It's something none of us like to go through. Even though Georgia has had to go through it, it's still a league member. ... It doesn't paint a pretty picture for our league, but things like this are going to happen."

Odom isn't worried about the integrity of the league as much as that of college basketball. Recent scandals at Georgia and elsewhere have given new and dubious meaning to the term March Madness:

  • At Fresno State, the school imposed a postseason ban on its basketball team amid allegations of academic violations under former coach Jerry Tarkanian.
  • At St. Bonaventure, players were allowed to skip the rest of the regular season after the Atlantic 10 made the school forfeit six conference victories and barred the team from this year's conference tournament for use of an ineligible player.
  • At Louisville, senior forward Marvin Stone sat out one game as the NCAA studied whether he accepted benefits from a former Amateur Athletic Union coach.
  • Odom blames coaches and administrators for letting matters get out of hand. He said past coaches such as Dean Smith, Frank McGuire and C.M. Newton left a sparkling legacy that is being tarnished with the latest scandals.

    "Georgia aside - I'm talking about the state of college basketball - I feel like my generation of coaches was given the game in a certain condition," said Odom, in his 14th year as a head coach. "The game of basketball was given to us in pretty good condition, and I'm not sure that our generation has built on that foundation in a very good way.

    "I'm not saying it's all the coaches' fault. I'm just saying that there are certain unsavory things that haven't always been true, and that troubles me a little bit."

    Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larry.williams@augustachronicle.com.