About Markelle Fultz’ sudden and mysterious fall from grace as a basketball star, this much is clear: He’ll never be invited to Hec Edmundson Pavilion for the retirement ceremony of his No. 20 jersey.
Fultz was identified Friday as among the more than 25 players who received money from a shady sports agency before they had declared themselves eligible for the NBA draft. According to FBI documents obtained by Yahoo! Sports, Fultz took $10,000. Precisely when the illegal payment was made is one of the many questions simmering as details emerge about a full-tilt scandal.
Another question: Did former Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar realize the most heralded freshman in school history had accepted dirty money? If you’re familiar with Romar, it’s difficult to fathom his recruitment of Fultz was tainted by a third party he knew about.
And yet it would be naive to pronounce, with absolute certainty, that he was a bystander impervious to the many rotten apples in the recruiting tree. Until Friday, Romar, as all college coaches did, had the advantage of plausible deniability: No paper trails, no evidence, nothing tethering him to the ASM sports agency at the epicenter of this mess.
That was before ESPN’s report of conversations, wiretapped by the FBI, between Arizona head coach Sean Miller and ASM associate Christian Dawkins. The conversations regarded the recruitment of 7-foot-1 center Deandre Ayton, a national player of the year candidate as a Wildcats freshman.
The price to bring Ayton to Arizona was $100,000. There would be no middlemen complicating the deal, Miller allegedly told Dawkins. Just the two of us.
If the reports are accurate, Miller is done as a basketball coach, and neither Ayton nor Arizona will compete in the NCAA Tournament. Presuming telephone talks other coaches had with Dawkins also were wiretapped — the feds intercepted some 3,000 hours of his conversations — college basketball’s next “Big Dance” could have the look of a middle-school sock hop.
Virtually every powerhouse program in the country has been linked to the ASM scandal. Present or past players from the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan State, USC and Kansas are alleged to have received illegal benefits.
Had the infractions involved merely a single school, punishment would be swift and severe: Fines, sanctions, with victories erased and championships vacated. But corruption extending from coast to coast is not so conveniently penalized.
If anything positive can be gleaned from revelations Fultz and others were paid as amateurs, it’s that the NCAA’s status quo system is so broken, the only alternative is to devise a much different system.
Football and basketball annually combine to produce billions of dollars for athletic departments affiliated with the NCAA. The athletes responsible for generating those billion-dollar revenues are not entitled any of it. This is absurd.
As the father of a college-aged child, I understand the value of free-ride scholarships typically worth more than $100,000 over four years. Obtaining a college degree often amounts to a debt sentence.
But Fultz didn’t enroll at Washington to obtain a degree. He enrolled at Washington because he was required to play at least one year of college basketball before jumping to the NBA.
Meanwhile, Fultz’ single-parent mother worked to pay the rent and utility bill on time. During his one-and-done season with the Huskies, Fultz developed a reputation for his fierce diligence on the court and his amiable demeanor off of it. A nice kid, by all indications. What nice kid turns down $10,000 to help his mom pay for rent and utilities, when $10,000 is pocket change to coaches such as Sean Miller?
In 2017, Miller’s contract was extended to a $2.9-million-per-year deal guaranteed through 2022. The contract includes a bizarre clause requiring Arizona to pay 85 percent of his base salary in the event he’s fired with “just cause,” as in discussing $100,000 payments to agents in return for a 7-1 center capable of averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds a game.
If Miller is proven to have violated NCAA rules, he’s still assured a lucrative income for the next four years. So is Fultz, the No. 1 overall selection of the 2017 draft. The Philadelphia 76ers are paying him $7-million this season and $8.3-million next season.
In return for their investment, the Sixers have gotten a grand total of four desultory games, at the beginning of the season, during which Fultz averaged six points. He’s lost his shooting touch, perhaps for reasons related to a right shoulder injury diagnosed as a “scapular muscle imbalance.”
Of all those implicated in the ASM scandal, Fultz figures to be the least concerned. If Washington is made to forfeit its nine victories from last season, he’ll yawn and wipe the sleep out of his eyes, as will the rest of us. He was a Husky for a year, a year best forgotten, and he moved on.
Markelle Fultz’ sole intent at Washington was to parlay his, um, “education” into a high slot in the NBA draft. He didn’t belong in college, and the system demanding he go to college is sick and dying.