Two of the top high school basketball prospects in the nation will take the court tonight in Birmingham at UAB's Bartow Arena.
Here at Legal Schnauzer, the event serves as a reminder that UAB can't even handle its signature sport properly anymore. And responsibility for that should fall at the feet of President Carol Garrison.
Tonight's Old Spice Basketball Showcase features LeFlore High School of Mobile, Alabama, vs. South Atlanta High School. LeFlore is led by 6-10, 250-pound DeMarcus Cousins, and South Atlanta counters with 6-9, 220-pound Derrick Favors.
Both are among the top college prospects in the country, and both figure to have promising futures in the National Basketball Association.
But DeMarcus Cousins has unwittingly come to personify the lack of leadership at UAB these days.
Last February, during his junior year in high school, Cousins publicly committed to UAB. He became the most high-profile prospect to ever say he wanted to play for the Blazers.
But there was a catch: Cousins didn't say he wanted to attend UAB and play for the Blazers. He said he was committing to Mike Davis, UAB's head coach.
When it came time to actually sign a national letter of intent (NLI) last November, Cousins said he wanted written assurances that UAB would release him from the letter if Davis were to leave the school. When UAB failed to give Cousins a written "out" on the NLI, Cousins refused to sign with the school. Two other recruits who had pledged to UAB, apparently intent on playing with Cousins, refused to sign.
The players still could sign with UAB in the spring 2009 signing period. Or they could wait till fall 2009 and just show up at the school, without signing an NLI. But UAB would have no assurances until the last moment about the makeup of its roster.
The bottom line? UAB's recruiting class, which once looked like one of the best in the nation, now appears to be imploding. Cousins recently said that he is considering Memphis, Kansas State, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, and Washington as his top five schools. He said he still could wind up at UAB.
Brian Mackin, UAB's athletics director, said he would grant Cousins a release if Davis were to leave. But the school has not put that in writing, and Cousins isn't biting.
So, how did UAB get into this fix? Let's count the ways:
* When Mike Anderson left UAB three years ago to become head coach at Missouri, UAB turned to Davis, an Alabama native who had just left the prestigious head coaching job at Indiana. The move seemed to make sense at the time. But there appears to be one problem: Davis doesn't want to be at UAB very long. A source tells Legal Schnauzer that Davis has made it known that he wants to be the next coach at the University of Alabama, his alma mater. Alabama coach Mark Gottfried has been under fire for the past year or so, but for now, there is no opening on the Tuscaloosa campus. And given that Davis' own team isn't playing well lately, it's hard to see why UA would want him. Our source also says Davis spends very little time on the UAB campus, usually arriving at the office just before practice is to begin in the afternoon. That lack of oversight might help explain why several players either flunked out or left the program recently, leaving UAB with only six scholarship players. Four of those players are seniors, and with the recruiting class in question, one can only wonder what UAB's program will look like next year.
* UAB is a member of the NCAA, the elite tier of sports-playing universities. The school pays a fee each year for NCAA membership and pledges to abide by NCAA rules. A lot of folks think the NCAA has some unfair rules, but schools have to live with them anyway. And one rule is this: A prospective student-athlete signs with the school, not a coach. And the rules state that a coaching change is not grounds for releasing the student-athlete from an NLI. The rules also state that a provision, like the one Cousins wants, cannot be added to the NLI.
* While the NCAA rules might seem unfair and one-sided, favoring the university, it's important to keep this in mind: While the coach often is a key factor in a recruit's decision, it's the school that pays the freight. The school pays for the recruiting process, pays for the scholarship and associated costs, pays for training facilities, food, travel expenses, and more. If Mike Davis were to leave UAB, and DeMarcus Cousins followed him out the door, the university would be left with a lot of expenses and nothing to show for it.
If Carol Garrison had a clue about how to run an athletics program, here is what she would have done: She would have sat down with Davis and said, "Mike, we are members of the NCAA, and we live by NCAA rules. If a recruit says he wants to play for you but does not want to attend UAB, we rescind the scholarship offer. We give scholarships only to student-athletes who want to be at UAB, regardless of who the coach is. And by the way, quit telling people you are angling for a better job and set regular office hours like the rest of us."
If Cousins had still announced that he wanted to play for Davis, UAB could have issued a statement saying, "We appreciate Mr. Cousins' confidence in our coach, but we will only offer him a scholarship if he is willing to abide by NCAA rules and sign with UAB."
Here's what's sad about this: Gene Bartow left UCLA, basketball's most storied program, to come to UAB and start an athletics program from nothing in 1977. Bartow stayed as coach and/or athletics director for 23 years, turning down numerous opportunities at more high-profile schools.
Now, the university has a coach who apparently wants out--and he hasn't even been at UAB three years. Worse, the coach seems to be using his relationship with a top recruit as a bargaining chip to get what he perceives to be a better job.
As long as seniors Robert Vaden, Lawrence Kinnard, Paul Delaney III, and Channing Toney are around, UAB figures to be competitive. But once they leave after this season, who knows what UAB will look like next year? Davis is supposed to be a master recruiter, but his roster for 2009-10 looks awfully thin at the moment.
People who care about UAB should be asking Carol Garrison a lot of hard questions, and one of them is this: Who hired this basketball coach and why doesn't he understand basic NCAA rules?