The SMU men’s basketball team peaked at No. 8 this season, but the Mustangs have to sit out March Madness after the NCAA banned them from the post-season. New York Times reporter Michael Powell dug into the case and discovered a dark side to college –and high school - hoops in Dallas.
Interview Highlights: Michael Powell…
…On the strategy to build up SMU’s basketball program:
“Their first order of business is to recruit the very best players possible. One of the things [SMU Coach Larry Brown] wanted to do was to break through the inner city Dallas market. The problem is – not for all of them, but for a number – is that you confront academics. SMU has pretty high standards academically so then the conundrum is ‘how do I get that kid into my school?’”
…On the pressure for assistant coaches to recruit:
“The dominant way that a young assistant proves his bona fides is by going out and getting the best possible player – in this case, Keith Frazier.
[Brown] really doesn’t want to know the details, it’s like ‘call me in when I need to try to seal the deal with this kid. Get the kid.’ The tension, of course, is if you’re an ambitious young assistant, you’re going to do almost anything to get that player.”
…On how SMU handled the academic fraud scandal:
“When I asked [SMU officials] ‘why did you overrule a decision by your own committee [that Frazier would not have done well academically at SMU]?’ They said, ‘these are extraordinary circumstances and we look at the holistic student.’ That brought laughs [from SMU faculty] when I told them.
When I asked Larry Brown how recruiting was going, he said ‘it’s never been better’ and to some extent, all the attention paid to SMU has helped him…It really felt like SMU had made their Faustian bargain by pulling in Larry Brown. They wanted a top Division I basketball program – they’ve gotten that – and they’re not terribly interested in looking too closely at the collateral damage that comes out of that decision.”
…On why he calls this story ‘a tragedy’:
“The way I look at it, this young man had not received any kind of a real education arguably from early high school right on through college. He was purely seen as an adornment to basketball programs. That strikes me because this is something that plays out broadly - not just in Dallas, but in cities across the country – that strikes me as a tragedy.”
Michael Powell is a columnist for the New York Times.