As a federal jury in New York found all three defendants guilty in the momentous college basketball trial that brought to life the seedy side of the game, on the day an Adidas executive was found guilty of a charge involving the recruitment of athletes to the University of Kansas, KU coach Bill Self was swarmed by reporters at the Sprint Center and deferred comment on it all until Wednesday night.
It’s an unsettling time even for those of us who think the world of Self, and it’s worth noting that nothing is quite certain about what exactly has happened and what it means for him and KU.
A few feet away, speaking with a handful of reporters during Big 12 media day, sat Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, widely considered one of the cleanest coaches in the game. And no one would have blamed him if he were smug or sanctimonious about what’s going on elsewhere.
Especially given the narrative about why he seldom has landed the nation’s top recruits — and how the reasons for that might now be understood as more complicated than mere failures on his part.
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Instead, Weber lamented the trouble hovering over the game he loves and dismissed the notion that he’s a saint.
“I am not perfect by any means; there are so many rules in the NCAA,” he said. “I’m not saying that. But we try to do it the right way, and I still believe in college athletics, I still believe in student-athletes, I still believe in opportunity.”
But while you are stranded not knowing what to believe about a lot of things now in college basketball, one thing you can count on is that Weber always has and always will do it the painstakingly right way. To a fault, I’ve had many in the business tell me, even as it’s cost him high-profile players over the years.
“One of the biggest revelations for me was when I was at Illinois, and a couple things happened, and they (a prospect or a prospect’s representative) asked for money,” he said. “It made me feel better, not better for the business, (but) because you work hard recruiting and then you don’t get kids and you always wondered why.”
This stance is part of why he showed up among the coaches with the most integrity in a 2017 CBS Sports poll that asked 100 coaches “who are the high-major coaches who don’t break rules?” … which perhaps in turn accounts some for why this year he showed up in CBS Sports’ top 10 of “the most underappreciated good head coach in college basketball.”
For that matter, it’s what makes the intriguing potential of a veteran team coming off an Elite Eight run all the more fulfilling a prospect.
We will all think what we want about the meaning and ramifications of the trial, and we should all ponder the role of NCAA rules in this and how people dealt poor hands in life should get a chance to maximize what they do best.
Some will even interpret the outcome as vindication for the so-called victim institutions.
But the fact is “the genie is out of the bottle,” as one Big 12 coach put it.
You could call it the end of the innocence, but as long as there have been rules there have been methods to circumvent them. And this particular type of shadowy, unsavory stuff has been an inconvenient truth at least since 2000, when “Sole Influence” was released by Dan Wetzel and Don Yeager.
It’s just that now the underbelly has been exposed in graphic detail that you can’t unsee, even if you’re Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski insisting it’s a blip. And it’s a disillusioning, disheartening thing for many of us who love the game.
So that’s why we pause to recognize Weber as genuine and a dose of hope for the good of the game at this sad crossroads.
“Unless you’re really totally blind to it or naïve to it, you knew something was going on, but I was just a little alarmed at the extent of it. and that’s I guess my biggest fear for the business, for the game, if it’s not … brought back a little bit,” he said. “No matter what business there is, there’s always some problem. It could be regular business, politics, religion, whatever it is. That’s just part of our world.”
As for how he views the competitive disadvantage that comes with playing it clean?
For one thing, there is this guiding principle of his: When the newspaper comes to the door or the news comes on the television, he doesn’t want his girls to have to worry about him doing something he’s not supposed to do.
For another, he thinks about what his dad always told him, sometimes in more colorful language: “Don’t complain, just work harder.”
“I don’t worry about it; I just worry about guys we can get and coaching them,” he said. “My biggest thing is with my assistants. They see people taking shortcuts, and now you’ve got to work harder to find somebody else.”
Because the important thing is to get guys who are proud to be at Kansas State, he said.
“And if they’re proud to be here, they’ll work hard and we’ll have a chance to win,” he said. “And that’s what we have right now.”
And that’s something you can buy into when so much else is so cloudy.