- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

I have found the perfect companion for all of you March Madness addicts for those moments when you are not glued to a game on television: a book called "The Men of March" ($24.95, Taylor Trade Publishing, 329 pages) by Brian Curtis.
At a time when the college game is reeling from a series of scandals, from St. Bonaventure to Georgia, this book gives you the inside perspective of the men often at the center of these scandals the coaches.
It also may give you some perspective about the state of the game. "Some of the coaches that I talked to think that cheating is actually less rampant than it was 15 or 20 years ago," Curtis said.
Curtis, a sports television reporter, radio talk show host and writer who lives in Los Angeles, talked to dozens of coaches while he followed the 2001-2002 seasons of four specific coaches: Steve Lavin (just fired by UCLA), Mike Brey of Notre Dame (a local guy who played for and coached with Morgan Wootten at DeMatha), Steve Alford (the Indiana schoolboy legend now coaching at Iowa) and Illinois coach Bill Self.
Since the various scandals in schools gained so much attention before the tournament began, Curtis' observations are particularly relevant. "Coaches told me that what has changed from 15 or 20 years ago is that there is so much pressure to win, they are not willing to risk an entire career on one recruit," Curtis said. "For a lot of coaches, it is not worth the cheating, because if they get caught, it can ruin their careers."
Jim Harrick never learned that lesson, but then he managed to get a coaching job at Georgia after scandals at UCLA and Rhode Island. Curtis lays the blame for that at the feet of the school presidents.
"I blame the Rhode Island president for hiring Harrick," Curtis said. "He had a national championship on his resume, so the president overlooked at least seven different documented occasions of Harrick lying to administrators. And I blame [Georgia president] Michael Adams. He should not have hired Harrick based on what happened at Rhode Island (including the Lamar Odom recruiting mess) and at UCLA."
Of course, cheating still goes on, but Curtis found that coaches have come up with more creative ways to do it.
"There are the nonprofit foundations to get to recruits, using the AAU coaches," Curtis said. "They have the AAU person create a nonprofit foundation that makes donations to charity, then have a booster donate money to the foundation. The money trickles down to the AAU coach and then to the player. It is very hard to trace nonprofit donations.
"Then there are unlisted cell phone numbers that coaches get that are paid for by an outside person," Curtis said. "It's hard to trace those calls, unless the student athlete turns them in."
Curtis' illuminating book reveals much more about the college coaching profession.
Recruiting: "Trust me, if a dollar amount is placed out there, you can very easily get an AAU coach to come on your side," said UCLA assistant Gerald Madkins. "They'll say somebody told me that if I got so-and-so to come to their school, I'd get $20,000 or $25,000. I've had a parent say that to me, and I told them straight out that we just don't do that."
Education: "It's not a coach's job [to graduate players]," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. "Why is it a coach's job … but I say to people who sit there and try to tell me that I don't care about education, I'll put my transcript next to theirs anytime and they would be embarrassed. It's a joke."
Race: "I have definitely seen it when [the impact of race] comes to how my teams are treated when it comes to officiating," Texas-San Antonio coach Tim Carter said. "I think every minority coach who has ever had three white officials do their game, the natural tendency is to think that you might not get a fair shake."
Media: "TV has been the worst thing that has happened to intercollegiate basketball," said former UCLA coach John Wooden. "It's made actors out of players, coaches, officials, and, to some degree, even fans that want to get into there."
If you want to take a peek behind the curtain while you are watching this fantasy world of college basketball, "The Men of March" would be a good place to start.

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