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Bad things happen to good teams

If you, Jack and Jill Wahoo, are currently squealing with malevolent glee at the possibility that this whole Corey Maggette mess might force Duke to vacate its second-place finish in the 1999 NCAA Tournament and fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars, wipe that smirk off your face. Stifle those giggles, because as much fun as it might be for Virginia fans to watch the NCAA take a chisel to the venerable Blue Devil veneer, this just as easily could happen to the Cavaliers.

The Duke program has its pants around its collective ankles right now because Maggette admitted last week he pocketed approximately $2,000 by the time he started his senior year of high school, courtesy of Myron Piggie, the reigning poster boy for seedy AAU coaches. When news broke that Piggie had paid a total of $35,500 to Maggette and four other stars on his Kansas City AAU team - an exceptional quintet that also included former UCLA star JaRon Rush, his younger brother Kareem Rush and straight-to-the-pros flameout Korleone Young - the world at large also discovered that Maggette therefore had been ineligible throughout his first and only season in Durham. Now the Blue Devils' title as 1999 runner-up is in jeopardy, as is a chunk of tournament revenue worth a whopping $226,815.

Nay, you protest, that could not happen here, not at Mr. Jefferson's University. Not when Pete Gillen takes such pains to educate his charges about seedy agents and other college basketball nasties that go bump in the night. Not when the embarrassments wrought by Melvin Whitaker and the rest of the star-crossed 1995 recruiting class are still fresh in the minds of Terry Holland and every orange-and-blue blood throughout the Commonwealth.

Related Links
  • Duke's press release

    on Corey Maggette

  • Official athletic site for Duke men's basketball
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    But that's just the thing. The location is irrelevant. No matter what the college, no matter what the tradition or prestige or vaunted honor system, it's maddeningly difficult to protect against NCAA violations that occur before a recruit sets foot on a university's hallowed grounds. College coaches have too many headaches keeping their current players away from hangers-on and other assorted ne'er do wells - never mind all that actual strategizing, recruiting, teaching and ... well ... coaching - to worry about checking up on high school starlets who may or may not ever play for them.

    The Blue Devils steadfastly maintain they had no idea Maggette's stint with the ironically sponsored Children's Mercy Hospital 76ers was a paying gig. That kind of ignorance would be quite a feat, considering the sheer volume of information that gets passed around the college basketball world - and the attention paid in that world to a magnificently talented recruit like Maggette.

    But assuming Coach K and friends are innocent, this is quite a slap in the face for the Dookies. They brought Maggette aboard for the pursuit of dual goals: winning basketball games and raking in the dough. The NCAA hasn't made a decision yet, but it's likely Duke will have to forfeit each of the 37 victories they earned in 1998-99, including the one that brought them to the NCAA championship game, and return that tournament bounty.

    Maggette's mere presence on the court made Duke's achievement of either of those objectives literally impossible. Maybe he deserved to be traded from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Clippers last month (although that was one of a handful of draft day moves by the Organization Formerly Known As the Paper Clips that has the team's lone remaining fan hoping jokes such as that soon will be a thing of the past).

    Regardless of its final outcome, the Maggette case stands as a cautionary tale for those who make their living coaching tall, athletic young men with basketballs. As Gillen and his staff continue to fashion the Cavalier program into one that has talented prepsters across this fine nation humming The Good Old Song, they toil with a fresh reminder that all their hard work can be undone by something almost completely out of their control.

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