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Thursday, April 06, 2006

...and by "light posting" I mean "I didn't think this would get finished today."

Alex Legion's mother lives in Inkster, Michigan. Alex Legion does not. Legion lives in Southfield with a man named Tim Green, who is his AAU basketball coach. Green is applying for legal guardianship of Legion.

Take the previous five sentences, mix them with the vapors of dozens of similarly creepy stories involving young men with unusual basketball ability and their assorted hangers-on, and you have world-class agar for investigative journalism to bloom in. Perhaps Alex Legion's situation is on the up-and-up. Perhaps Tim Green's motivations for taking Legion under his wing are totally altruistic. But unless stunning ability with a basketball goes hand-in-hand with a level of charm so absolute that total strangers nationwide are taking in basketball non-orphans simply to be charitable, there is a class of men somewhere between agents and parasites attaching themselves to every prospective NBA player in the country. Shoe wars have turned high school basketball entirely upside down: nowadays your AAU team is more important than your high school one. Where, then, is "Game Of Shadows: College Basketball Edition"?

Don't expect that question to be answered with a "coming right up" any time soon. As Mark Jurkowitz recently detailed in The Phoenix, a Boston alt-weekly, when it comes to muckraking, sportswriters have a rich history of sitting on their ass eating donuts. "Game of Shadows" itself was penned by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, men who

are not the kind of reporters found walking around post-game clubhouses armed with microphones and notebooks. Fainaru-Wada, a former sportswriter, was working on a campaign-finance project for the Chronicle’s investigative unit when the BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative) drug story broke. Williams, a traditional courts-and-cops reporter, is a long-time investigative journalist.
While Jurkowitz's article has an odd concept of stories of import -- he cites work done that showed that certain pro athletes' charitable contributions were not as charitable as all that -- it stands as a damning testament against the sportswriter's feeble plea that their access to athletes and coaches can serve as their aegis against the unwashed blogging hordes. It took ten years, a federal investigation, and two non-sportswriters to break the "news" that Bonds was on 'roids, something that had been conventional wisdom for a half-dozen years. In the interim, sportswriters asked Bonds
  • if he liked winning,
  • if he liked hitting lots of home runs,
  • if he thought home runs were fun to hit,
  • and if winning and hitting home runs was kind of like being tickled by ponies.
"Squandered" doesn't seem to cover the totality of the failure here.

Meanwhile in college basketball, the conventional wisdom is not that a few coaches are bending, breaking, or flaunting the rules -- it's that all of them are. At least, everyone who isn't Tommy Amaker is. Even not-a-coach-but-a-leader Mike Kryzwesksisetc,etc,etc ended up entangled with Brett Bearup via Corey Maggette. The coach of your 2006 national champion Florida Gators was publicly accused of being an ATM with Eddie Munster hair by then-Stanford coach Mike Montgomery (though the uproar over those comments caused an epic CYA backtrack by Montomgery in their wake). The NCAA had to rejigger its rules because Jim Calhoun was funnelling thousands of dollars to AAU programs via sham exhibition games. That's just the tip; the iceberg is composed of recruit after recruit ending up at a funny destination for no reason in particular. There's nothing you can say about each individual case -- kids do indeed choose schools for a lot of funny reasons -- but taken together they compose a black mass lurking just under the Greg-Gumbelized surface of college basketball.

And this has been going on for not ten but thirty years (at least!), to the detriment of many but most importantly me Michigan. It's just our luck that basketball's unspoken reptilian tail has smashed Michigan both coming (Ed Martin sinks the program) and going (Crawford, Hairston, Horford, Legion leave before even coming). We swing back and forth from a program not clean enough to one that seems too clean to do the bending that teams far below the corruption median are willing to do: Tory Jackson's scholarship was pulled, so he took off for noted nest of corruption Notre Dame. (That was sarcastic, Irish fans.) We sit idly by, wondering if there are tournaments other than the NIT. We suck, waiting for that one guy with stunning basketball skills to suck the suck away.

Yesterday, that guy was Alex Legion. Now that seems doubtful despite his mother's assertions that she fully expects him to end up at Michigan eventually. When Legion tells Scout that...
"We decided to open it up," Legion told "I'm going to Oak Hill and I'm starting over so we opened it up.
... but tells his mom different...
"Like he told Amaker today, 'I'll be away from Mr. Green and my mom and get a chance to think things over,' " Williams said of her son, referring to his guardian Tim Green. " 'I'll think about my own self and my own choices.''s hard to go with mom over he person he lives with -- and what an odd sentence that is. It's hard to be the kind of person who makes his own choices when you've never done so before. Is it "we" or "I"? And will Legion pick a place his mother wants him to go, or a place that might make Tim Green some money? No one knows right now, but I've got a nickel on green, capitalized and un-.

That's not to say I know Tim Green from Adam. As noted, this could all be completely legit and Legion will call Tommy Amaker to recommit and go where his mom wants him to go... but you'll forgive my cynicism. Occam's Razor and all that.

Meanwhile, we're left with sports journalists that Ball Four author Jim Bouton describes in the Phoenix article as "fans" who are "in it because it's fun" -- an assertion that any actual fan is taken aback by, since most sportswriters are about as fun as a bag of tacks to the face. For that matter, sportswriters seem to recoil from the term "fan" as if it was three letters of hydrochloric acid. As Colby Cosh noted when Bob McKenzie said that the "fan in [him] died long ago":
McKenzie certainly doesn't mean that he no longer gets pleasure from hockey: he's using the word "fan" as a pejorative, the way Nietzsche used "human." McK's saying he has transcended, attained a higher state. The fan had to die to make way for the expert. It's kind of like a political columnist describing himself as no longer a mere voter.
It should be noted that McKenzie is an MGoBlog favorite and all-around good (seeming) guy, but Cosh is right. Anyone who's read Drew Sharp or any of his legion of crabbed clones across the country knows they're no good at fun or fandom. But they do have that precious access, and so I ask: if you'd like to prove your vast superiority to blogs, why don't you do college basketball a favor and rake some muck? We'll save the bearclaws until you get back.

(Cosh's pith via Offwing)