Everyone is saying the bombshell that dropped on Monday was the tip of the iceberg, and it is seeming that way with each and every passing hour.
So far, nobody at Gonzaga has been accused of any wrongdoing. The world of recruiting, especially in college basketball, has operated in a permanent gray-zone, and although Gonzaga hasn’t often gone after these high-level recruits, they occasionally have — and generally have lost.
It is interesting to look at two of the assistant coaches who have been publicly accused of corruption: Tony Bland with the USC Trojans and Book Richardson with the Arizona Wildcats. Specifically, in just this past offseason, the Zags have lost out on two recruits, one to each school.
Now, to just assume that the reason the Zags lost out on these recruits because of this scandal is shortsighted and reckless. Assuming so also implicates the players and the players’ families of wrongdoings, and despite how easy it is to not do so, we do live in a world where we are innocent until proven guilty.
Recruiting, outside of what this bribery scandal has opened up, is already a complicated world built on relationships and more relationships. Already, USC recruit Taeshon Cherry’s relationship with Bland has been cited in the Gonzaga interwebs. Bland has been accused of taking bribes to steer players to Christian Dawkins, a former sports agent trying to start his own firm, and for moving $9,000 in cash to two families of Trojan players.
Although it seems stupid to take a “wait and see” approach as the information trickles out, the state of affairs in the world today tends to be a leap to conclusions. The Cherry quote in question doesn’t really make it seem like there was some ulterior motives in his decision:
“I’ve known Tony since I was eight. He’s a mentor. Knowing Tony really helped me make a decision. It would have been really hard to tell him no. Plus, USC’s style of play fits me. It’s not far from San Diego. It felt like home.”
Cherry has known Bland for years because Bland really made a name for himself as an assistant coach at San Diego State University, Cherry’s hometown. Ex-Aztecs coach Steve Fisher hasn’t commented, but Brian Dutcher, who worked with Bland said, “represented himself and the university with great integrity. What he did at USC, I can’t comment on that.”
On top of that, the complaint cites a Player-8 and Player-9 at USC who needed to be “taken care of,” but refers to them as a rising sophomore and an incoming freshman. Cherry, in the class of 2018, is neither.
In the case of Arizona, the Bulldogs were hot on the recruiting trail of Brandon Williams, who ended up at Arizona. Again, jumping to the conclusion that he chose the Wildcats because of money is short sighted, and the information in the complaint suggests that the Wildcat player who took money was Arizona commit Jahvon Quinterly.
The more immediate question facing the Zags circles around both of these players, and unfortunately, it is the wait and see approach for an answer. As AZ Desert Swarm answered in a recent mailbag, Williams probably wouldn’t decommit until the future of Sean Miller is solidified. The same most likely goes for Cherry and Andy Enfield at USC.
On the flip side, as we saw with the departure of Rick Pitino and the immediate jettison of its recruiting class, all of this can change at the drop of a dime. However, if the year starts out with Miller and Enfield in their spots, you can probably expect both Cherry and Williams to remain.
And before you go on and accuse Enfield and Miller of being complicit, the situation at the University of Arizona and USC vs. the situation at Louisville couldn’t be more night and day. Although USC has a storied history of bending recruiting rules, Enfield was never around during that time. Miller has been relatively squeaky clean when it has come to recruiting his entire life. Pitino, on the other hand, literally just survived a massive sex scandal within the past calendar year through the sheer power of ignorance. He was already on thin ice at the university, and there was no way Louisville could survive another year with him on board.
We are just 48 hours into this whole mess, and there is most likely going to be a huge amount of fallout that will stain the sport throughout the entire year. So as of now, it is too early to say how this scandal has/will affect Gonzaga, if at all.