During the 2012 season, a number of Washington-area coaches in the prestigious Washington Catholic Athletic Conference complained that Bishop O’Connell (Arlington, Va.) dynamo Junior Etou was too old to compete at the high school level. The coaches claimed that Etou was actually 20 years old and that he had provided false documentation when he arrived in the U.S. from his native Democratic Republic of Congo to play scholastic basketball.
The detractors pointed to past evidence that Etou had competed for Congo junior national teams in age groups that would place the teen at a more advanced age than the 18 years he claimed. Throughout it all, O’Connell coach and athletic director Joe Wootten steadfastly defended Etou. Now it appears clear that either Wootten, Etou or both were lying the entire time.
As reported by Dave McKenna — please read his full story here, as it contains a wealth of excellent reporting on a rather serpentine story — FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, completed an investigation into Etou’s biographical documents and information. It found that he is now 21 years old, which means that he competed during the entire 2013 WCAC season while being 20 years old, two years too old for league regulations.
Needless to say, the coaches who were topped by Etou’s dominant show of force are less than pleased to learn that they were duped by the prep star who now plays at Rutgers. The quotes have been ferocious.
"O'Connell sold their soul to win a championship," Paul VI High (Fairfax, Va.) told McKenna. "The whole thing was ridiculous all year, and makes our whole league look ridiculous. Everybody knew he was too old. You can say it's sour grapes on my part, but I don't care. You didn't have to look at a bunch of 16- and 17-year-old kids crying in the locker room after that [WCAC semifinal] was stolen from them. I did and had to think about that all summer. This isn't a victimless crime.
"Nobody's disputing that [O'Connell] had something that said he was 18 or 19. But they also had all these other pieces to the puzzle of how old he really was. I don't have to be the smartest guy in the room to figure out if the kid's age doesn't matter to one organization that has a set—and FIBA doesn't care at all how old this guy is—and the school has another set of documents that it benefits from, well, I can figure out which set of documents is probably fraudulent. FIBA's not accepting these new documents. So why did our league? I would honestly hope the WCAC would come together and reopen their investigation here."
O’Connell doesn’t appear to be helping smooth over the rough edges of this controversy, either. The WCAC boys basketball coach meetings were scheduled for the same day that Rutgers announced a self-imposed suspension against Etou for allegedly receiving impermissible benefits. Wootton failed to show up at the coach meetings and has yet to comment on FIBA’s new ruling or the allegations of impropriety made against his former player.
Naturally, none of this will give the teams beaten by O’Connell — particularly Paul VI and Gonzaga College High (Washington, D.C.) — another shot at a city title. Still, a second look at Etou’s eligibility and a revocation of O’Connell’s WCAC title might go some way toward helping the coaches and schools feel justice has been served.
"I think this means somebody stole a championship," Gonzaga coach Steve Turner told McKenna.