College Basketball Preview
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ The scars of a point-shaving scandal are healing at staid, old Tulane and there’s hope college basketball will someday be revived.
″Never″ has at least become ″wait and see.″ Still, for the first time since 1912, there will be no Green Wave team this season.
President Eamon Kelly abolished the men’s varsity program in April in the wake of a point-shaving scandal and allegations of NCAA violations, including a claim that star center John ″Hot Rod″ Williams got $10,000 in a shoebox to sign.
When he announced his decision, Kelly deliberately refused to hold out hope basketball would be revived. He didn’t want to encourage speculation, he said.
Later, he modified his stance a bit.
″He has indicated to me that at some point in the future, if he feels like he could bring it back with a first-class program - and do it right - he would be for it,″ said Mack Brown, first-year athletic director and head football coach.
″If not - and I mean doing it right all the way - he would not be for it.″
Williams’ case is still in court, with prosecutors trying to win another chance to try him on sports bribery charges. Williams’ first trial resulted in a mistrial on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct. His uncertain status prompted the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association to withdraw their contract offer.
Point guard David Dominique still faces charges, but no date has been set for his trial.
Two former players testified against Williams under grants of immunity, and a third testified for the prosecution in a plea bargain.
A gag order is in effect, preventing discussion of the case by anyone involved.
Until the matter is settled, Brown said it was premature to speculate on the future of Tulane basketball.
″I think that after this thing gets out of court, Dr. Kelly and I will talk, and he will bring me up to date on it,″ Brown said.
Two of Tulane’s most ardent financial backers want to see basketball revived, but only on Kelly’s terms.
″It would seem that someday a university like this ought to have a basketball program back. One mistake shouldn’t spell the end of a program forever,″ said Ben Weiner, one of Tulane’s leading fundraisers.
″He (Kelly) knows my opinion. I backed him on what he did at the time he did it, but it should be open for reconsideration,″ Weiner said.
Kent McWilliams was Tulane’s first scholarship basketball player, a poor kid who used his pre-World War II geology degree as a springboard to wealth as head of McMoRan petroleum exploration company.
In addition to his financial support of athletics, McWilliams is a major contributor to Tulane’s medical center and has endowed a chair in geology.
Academics come first, he said: ″As much as I love athletics, you have to have priorities.″
However, he said, he believes the matter could have been handled without abolishing the basketball program. ″You don’t blame basketball for the frailties of a few people.″
″Down the line, we hope we can establish enough credibility for them to consider reinstating basketball,″ he said.
Some five dozen members of the athletic department staff - coaches, administrators and support personnel - have either quit, been fired or reassigned to other duties since the scandal broke.
Coach Ned Fowler resigned, disclaiming knowledge of point shaving but admitting he had given players small sums of money during emergencies. The shoebox full of money allegedly was given to Williams during the tenure of the previous coaching staff.
Fowler took a program that had not enjoyed a winning season in five years to two postseason tournaments in four seasons. He has been unavailable for comment, even on matters not related to the court case.
″He has a job handling real estate for Kent McWilliams, but he wants to coach basketball,″ Weiner said. ″He ought to be coaching basketball. He’s an honest man and probably the best ever at Tulane - maybe the best one or two coaches in the country.″
Former athletic director Hindman Wall quit, also denying any knowledge of point shaving. He said he as just worn out by the turmoil. Wall is now involved in a travel agency with old friend Vince Gibson, whom he hired and fired as Tulane’s football coach.
Although Kelly said Tulane would honor its scholarship commitment to underclassmen with eligibility remaining, the players transferred to other schools.
Four of them moved across town to the University of New Orleans, where former Tulane assistant Kirk Saulny now works under new Coach Benny Dees.
Memphis State, Florida State and Southern Mississippi filled Tulane’s spots in their Metro Conference schedules by picking up New Orleans.
″I feel awful about what happened to them,″ Dees said. ″It was a real tragedy, but it did happen. And we’re the only Division I-A basketball in town, at least until they decide to play basketball again.″