© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2003
Jim Harrick had his swing at UCLA, then one at Rhode Island and a final stroke at Georgia. Whiffed 'em all. Three blights and you're out.
He could've retired with the reputation of a champion, being the only Bruins coach to finish No. 1 since John Wooden, but instead Harrick leaves basketball through the back door as a bum who couldn't keep from cheating, lying and poisoning.
March, it's the best of times and worst of times for NCAA hoops. By tonight, a Final Four will be set for New Orleans. Heroics are multiplying. Dreams pulsating. But, on the flip side, there is disturbing, odious stuff.
It's not just Harrick's calamity in Athens, it's the Villanova scam and the St. Bonaventure travesty and a lot more. It's a joke at too many NCAA schools to refer to participants as student athletes.
Making passing grades isn't easy when basketball takes 20 to 40 hours a week from a kid's time. That's a challenge but it's no excuse. If they can't stay somewhat on pace graduate, isn't the system a flop that needs changing?
Ten teams reaching the Sweet 16 of the men's NCAA tournament have graduated less than half their players in recent seasons. Fifty-seven percent of athletes in the sport at 328 schools are black and their grad rates are much worse.
"It's a nightmare," said Richard Lapchick, who produced the sad statistics in a study for the Ethics and Diversity in Sport. He said 58 of the basketball-playing institutions failed to graduate a single black player in six years.
It's not everybody. Duke does well at getting degrees into hands of basketball players. Kansas is good. Marquette and Notre Dame aren't bad. Most are mediocre.
JOCK ROCK: In an e-mail, Ron Homan of Arlington, Va., asks how anyone "could object to Pete Rose being (back) in baseball . . . when both football and baseball teams are crawling with murderers, rapists, burglars, woman abusers and dope addicts?"
BAD GUYS, YEAH, BUT NO MAJORITY: That's too thick a blanket blast, Ron. Indeed, we see too many jerks, a few thugs and some downright criminals in sports, but I've been in maybe a thousand locker rooms in all major sports and my eternal impression is that guys who are good or okay or tolerable outnumber the pure scum at least 20 to 1.
It should inflate the spirits even of a wholesale, raging critic of he or she were to check the admirable portfolios of Derrick Brooks, Wayne Gretzky, Derek Jeter, Luis Gonzalez, Pete Sampras, Darrell Armstrong and dozens more.
Look hard at David Robinson.
This is a 7-foot-1 gent about to retire after 14 NBA seasons. He entered the Naval Academy an uncelebrated 6-6 hoops teen, with his hottest numbers being in academics including 320 on the SAT.
Robinson left Annapolis as national collegiate player of the year prior to serving an active duty Navy hitch as an extremely tall ensign and then moved on to pro basketball.
Robinson's run has been beyond courtly with the San Antonio Spurs, including being voted league MVP (1995), rookie of the year (1990) and defensive player of the year (1992).
This is a bright, wonderful chap they call The Admiral. He played on an NBA championship team (1999) and is the only man ever to compete for the United States in three Olympics, winning two gold medals.
Robinson is rich, but sharing. There are three sharp, mannerly sons in The Admiral's house and he and wife Valerie are committed to help kids not so blessed.
For 11 years, they have poured resources into the David Robinson Foundation and, in 1997, gave $5-million to establish the Carver Academy, a multiethnic center for San Antonio's youth.
Bad chap? Anything but . . .
Cheers to you, Mr. Robinson.
VOICE OVER: E-mail from Richard Vertorano says, "I am 27 and used to listen to your radio show. I enjoy your columns and radio work because -- and I hope you take this the right way -- of your age and experience.
"It is great to hear perspective from someone who has been to all the major events and has watched sports evolve. I just moved back to the Tampa Bay area and was glad to find your Sunday column, but I do wish you could be back on local radio."
WHATEVER HAPPENED to Manny Sanguillen?