September 02, 2009
The University of Louisville made a hire recently. The name of that hire? Shabaka Lands. His title? "Special Assistant to the Coach,"
men's basketball division. The name itself might be eye-catching alone;
"Shabaka Lands" isn't a moniker one often hears. But the real reason
why this hire matters is that Shabaka Lands happens to be the former
high school AAU assistant basketball coach of Marquis Teague,
a five-star Rivals-rated recruit from Indianapolis, Ind., a player that
not only Louisville but Indiana, Purdue, Cincinnati, Kentucky, and a
whole bunch of other programs would like to have join their team in
See, Pitino's little hire -- hey, how come Coach Pitino has a new special assistant (this is where I avoid all jokes about making sure the coast is clear at late-night restaurants)? -- is not little at all. It's a major strategic recruiting win. It's also pretty dirty. And it's incredibly common.
It's pretty easy, when you think about it. High school and AAU coaches attach themselves to players; players insist that to come to that school they need their favorite high school coach along for the ride; and suddenly a free assistant's spot opens up on a Division 1 basketball school's bench. The same thing happened with Michael Beasley. Eric Gordon's reversal to Indiana from his prior commitment to Indiana had at least a little to do with his high school coach getting a gig on Kelvin Sampson's bench. It really happens all the time.
It feels wrong, but there's no NCAA law against it, and it's not obviously wrong in the same ways as, say, faking your way through an SAT test. It just happens to be one of the myriad, petty ways NCAA coaches and their high school counterparts manage to game the system. At this point, it's barely worthy of outrage.