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High profile or high integrity?

Jon MaletzThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Aspen Basketball Academy organizers are hoping to make a big splash. Lets hope they dont end up soaking wet.Admittedly, I was intrigued when I first learned former UCLA coach Jim Harrick was visiting Aspen next week to address the academys high school boys session. I immediately contacted camp director and Aspen coach Steve Ketchum to set up an interview, and even started jotting down a list of questions. Its not every day that one has the chance to interview an NCAA champion coach. And when you work in a Colorado ski town, you appreciate such a rare opportunity even more.I was granted the interview, but under one explicit condition: I was forbidden from delving into Harricks checkered past.You see, there are two sides to this story. Maybe more.He has had so many positives in his career and that will be the sole focus [of the entire trip], Ketchum wrote in an e-mail to The Aspen Times on Thursday. His many great successes over many, many years, have far outweighed a few negatives in our view.Harricks career accolades are indeed staggering. Hes won more than 400 collegiate games and guided the Bruins to the 1995 NCAA championship the schools first since the Wizard of Westwood roamed the court at Pauley Pavilion. He took Pepperdine to four NCAA tournaments, and orchestrated Rhode Islands 1998 Sweet 16 upset of heavily-favored Kansas. His teams made 14 trips to the big dance. Such statistics are featured prominently on the ABA website. But those numbers dont seem to add up. The omissions from Harricks resume the alleged indiscretions stretching from Los Angeles to The Ocean State and into Southeastern Conference country are far more conspicuous. Is Harrick a good coach? One of the best the college game has ever seen. Is he the right person to address a group of impressionable high schoolers? I have my doubts.I dont blame Ketchum or camp founder Kevin Pritchard for being blinded by the light surrounding Harrick. Theyre not the first ones a few scorned athletic directors and college presidents can attest to that.When Chris Penrose, a friend of the academy, coaxed Harrick to visit Aspen, Im sure organizers were elated. Im not naive. I know that securing high-profile coaches and players for speaking engagements is the lifeblood of any successful summer camp. Heck, if Jud Buechler, not Ray Allen, headlined the Slamma Jamma Basketball Camp back in the mid 90s, I probably wouldve gone to theater camp instead. The pool of potential speakers is shallow. Ketchum explained that, because of the NCAAs expanded no-contact period between coaches and high school players during the month of July, camps must pursue the services of NBA participants or inactive college coaches and players.This made coach Harrick even more attractive because he was a super successful big-time coach who is not currently active and is available and was actually interested in coming out here and helping us out, Ketchum wrote. My friend was able to arrange to bring him out as a favor to our camp to bring a big name for the kids. I commend Harrick for making the trip. Im sure hell have sage advice and stories to impart to campers. I openly admit hes a genius with the clipboard.I do wonder, however, why organizers have been so willing to overlook Harricks past transgressions.Ketchum insists Harricks visit will be solely about Xs and Os and pick-and-rolls. But, after listening to the director speak about motivation, hard work and accountability earlier this week, I think its only fair to hold everyone who walks through the gym doors to that same standard.As such, I could not consent to an interview in which I was prohibited from delving into Harricks dismissal from UCLA after allegedly filing false expense reports. I could not be fair and balanced if I didnt ask the coach about the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former employee at Rhode Island, or allegations that he provided improper benefits to players.And Id be remiss if I didnt address the academic fraud scandal that rocked the University of Georgia in 2003. Former Bulldogs player Tony Cole accused Harricks son, then an assistant coach, of giving him an A in a course on the principles of basketball that Cole insisted he never attended, and of paying phone and hotel bills.Could I interview Barry Bonds, but not broach the subject of steroids?Do we make mistakes? Yeah, the elder Harrick told USA Today as more details were being divulged in 2003. Will they find something minor? Maybe.I believe in second chances. After the third, fourth and fifth, however, I refuse to be as understanding. The trail of lies, fractured relationships and sullied athletic departments is too significant to ignore. How can a man preach hard work when hes been all but shunned from the college ranks because of the shortcuts he took? Theres a reason the former Naismith Coach of the Years last head coaching gig was with the Bakersfield Jam of the NBAs Developmental League.Is this really the best the ABA can do? Isnt the academy sending a contradictory message, not to mention setting a dangerous precedent?Is high profile more important than high integrity?You be the judge. jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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