The college basketball world went topsy-turvy Tuesday when it was discovered that four assistant coaches were being indicted — and possibly 10 more involved — in a corruption case involving bribery.
It was all about college hoops programs trying to gain pole position to snag some of the nation’s top high school basketball prospects. In short, it was another chapter in the whole pay-for-play phenomenon that’s permeated major collegiate athletics for decades.
But this time, the FBI got involved and some of the nation’s marquee programs look to take gargantuan hits because of the findings. Perhaps headlining the list of ousted coaches is Louisville’s Rick Pitino.
He’s probably the biggest name on the list. But don’t get it twisted — nobody is living under any visions of grandeur regarding the widespread nature of “pay-for-play” in college athletics, particularly the big revenue sports, football and basketball.
No doubt, probably all of our area hoops coaches have a valuable take on that matter. But I found Newton Rams boys basketball coach, Rick Rasmussen’s take particularly interesting — not just because he’s a well-tenured basketball coach. But also because of the caliber of players he’s had the ability to coach over the last couple of years.
Of course we remember last year’s nationally ranked Newton squad which boasted several Division I talents, including J.D. Notae, now at Jacksonville University and Isaiah Miller, now at UNC-Greensboro. And also junior point guard, Ashton Hagans —a player considered the No. 1 point guard prospect in the country for the class of 2019.
Because of that, Rasmussen has seen all sorts of blue blood programs and wanna-be elite schools stop by the Newton High School gym to get a glimpse of the 6-foot-4 dynamo, with hopes of luring Hagans to their school. Yes, even some of those schools mentioned in the recent FBI probe.
Although, Ashton Hagans’ father, Marvin, is quick to note that no shady business or illicit offers have come to the Hagans’ doorstep.
“We’re not a part of no type of scandal,” Marvin Hagans said. “Yes, some of those coaches were recruiting him. But no one came at him sideways.”
A lot of that is because the elder Hagans and his family have taught Ashton to give one single company line when college hoops suitors come calling.
“It’s easy,” Ashton Hagans said. “All I say is, ’talk to my dad,’ and I keep it moving.”
That has kept a lot of the recruiting drama in the Hagans’ household to a minimum. And the combination of Ashton’s family involvement, plus the morals the Hagans’ have taught their son is the kind of recipe Rasmussen wishes more parents and guardians with elite prospects for sons would follow.
“It’s an unfortunate part of amateur athletics, this whole thing that has been happening,” Rasmussen said. “When money is involved, and exposure, social media and the whole one-and-done road to the NBA, there’s so much opportunity for people to take advantage of kids. That’s why I really respect the way Ashton’s family sees the big picture of things, and how Ashton’s dad has helped protect him from a lot of this.”
Make no mistake, however. The money market amateur sports scene isn’t going away anytime soon.
In fact, the big dollars and lure of big fame seems to creep lower and lower down the amateur athlete ladder each year. Now there’s even money to be made for camps that highlight the talents of middle schoolers — kids in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
It’s also not going away at Newton either — at least not from an attention standpoint. Not as long as Ashton Hagans is around. The list of schools coming to see the point guard reads like a Sweet 16 round bracket in the NCAA Tournament.
In just the last couple of weeks, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Kentucky, Auburn, Florida State and Missouri have been by. Tennessee coach, Rick Barnes — who used to coach Texas when Kevin Durant was a long, gangly freshman there — came through telling Durant stories.
Rasmussen says he can see where it’s easy to get caught up in the web. Which is why he hopes that the way his star guard is approaching things can become a model of sorts.
“He’s been very patient with the whole recruiting process,” Rasmussen said. “Here it is, his junior year, and he hasn’t named a top three. He’s open to any major program. He hasn’t closed any doors. What he doesn’t want to do is open a can of worms of ethics violations that tarnish his reputation. We don’t want that either, and that’s why it’s so good to see how diligent his family is to protect Ashton’s reputation.”
As for all those hot shot athletes who feel like taking a bribe or doing something that the NCAA would consider unscrupulous to get ahead is just the way of the modern sports world, and is a necessary evil, Rasmussen heartily debunks that with a bit of old school wisdom.
“If you work hard, and keep your integrity, the future will take care of itself.”
Sometimes the old advice is best, even in “new” times.
Gabriel Stovall is the proud sports editor of The Covington News. You can reach him for tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1, and our sports Twitter page, @CovNewsSports.