One of the worst days of Rick Pitino's coaching career occurred nearly three weeks ago when word leaked that a soon-to-be-published book claimed a Louisville basketball staffer paid escorts to dance for and have sex with players and recruits.
This is surely Pitino's worst day since then.
An extensive ESPN.com report released Tuesday morning corroborates many of the most serious allegations self-described escort Katina Powell made in her book.
Five ex-Louisville basketball players or recruits confirmed anonymously they attended parties that included strippers paid for by former director of basketball operations Andre McGee. One former player said he had sex with one of the strippers in a separate room after McGee paid her to do it. Another ex-player described how the parties would unfold.
"[McGee] would give us the money, just the recruits," the former player told ESPN.com. "A bunch of us were sitting there while they danced. Then the players left, and the recruits chose which one [of the dancers] they wanted."
Added a former Louisville recruit, "It was like I was in a strip club."
McGee's attorney has consistently denied that his client supplied Louisville players or recruits with strippers or prostitutes, however, the evidence against the former point guard continues to mount. In its report, ESPN said that it reviewed Powell's text messages and phone records and independently confirmed that texts sent to Powell to arrange the parties came from McGee's cellphone and that McGee sent Powell a wire transfer of money on one occasion.
Between Powell's book and the ESPN report, this much is now pretty clear: Either Pitino masterminded an incredibly reckless, foolhardy scheme to lure recruits, or he hired the guy who did and somehow remained oblivious to it. Either certainly is enough to jeopardize his job even if it's clear he has no intention of stepping down on his own.
Pitino has repeatedly denied any knowledge of strippers being paid to dance for or have sex with recruits, but in Powell's first interview since her book was published, she reiterated to ESPN she finds that hard to believe.
Said Powell: "Four years, a boatload of recruits, a boatload of dancers, loud music, alcohol, security, cameras, basketball players who came in [to the dorm] at will ... "
What will be interesting now will be how Louisville responds. Will the school try to get ahead of potential NCAA sanctions and self-impose penalties or encourage Pitino to step down? Or will it do nothing besides continuing to insist it's still investigating the veracity of Powell's claims?
With no hard evidence having surfaced that Pitino or his assistants were aware of the parties, Louisville has no reason to deviate from its stance that they were orchestrated solely by McGee, but how much that will make a difference remains to be seen.
Last month, SMU got a one-year postseason ban and heavy scholarship reductions, and coach Larry Brown received a nine-game suspension even though NCAA investigators were unable to prove Brown knew that a staffer had taken an online course for a coveted incoming recruit.
That's a precedent that doesn't bode well for Louisville. Nor does it bode well for Pitino.
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