Before I get to the beef of this post, I want to share a feeling with you.
As I grow older in life and in this profession, I appreciate and love investigative journalism more and more. The reasons for this are simple: good investigative reporting is incredibly hard to do, so when people do it right and do it well, I want to hunt them down and bow to them for their public service and diligence. Without the gumption and dedication of these men and women, corruption, immorality and deceit would be much more prevalent in our worlds, from sports to politics to business to schools and beyond.
Think about it: When you're an investigating a story that's got a taboo to it, no matter the subject, people are constantly dodging you, quite possibly lying to you. Cell phones suddenly don't work. E-mails get sent into the ether, sometimes never to get a reply. Getting folks on the record -- the ones who don't have an axe to grind -- is no easy task. Quite often, an investigative reporter parachutes themselves into a situation where they have little or no contacts. Their reputation precedes them, so most aren't exactly eager to have a Woodward clone show up at their door. Gathering information and culling it can take months before dividends start to pay off.
It is, very much, a slow boil.
ESPN.com saw its water turn to bubbles recently, as Mike Fish compiled a pretty significant series of stories, all of which were released this afternoon, spearheaded by its spotlight piece, "Basketball Ties That Bind." Fish sheds a lot of light on Indiana Elite, the AAU team that's recently been spoon feeding Indiana University with a slew of highly ranked recruits. It's because of this, most likely, that Hoosiers coach Tom Crean (right) still has a job. Crean has had to clean up Kelvin Sampson's mess, but he's still not doing a lot of winning; the fans are becoming increasingly itchy.
Fish's story details Indiana Elite and its coach, Mark Adams, who runs something known as A-HOPE, a program that mainly recruits African-born players to the United States with the intention of giving them a better life -- through basketball. A-HOPE is a registered non-profit organization with the IRS, something Adams claims he's put hundreds of thousands of dollars into. Fish's story, however, does a fantastic job of showing just how much time and effort is given to getting these players into high-level programs, most notably Indiana, and how there seem to be myriad perceptions of Adams, A-HOPE and Indiana Elite.
There's been an increasing amount of suspicion among the college basketball community that Adams has been intentionally funneling players to colleges of his choice; Indiana is only the most recent target. The skeptics recently took on more gasoline for their fires when Adams' son, Drew, was hired in April of 2010 as a video coordinator with the Hoosiers.
Let it be clear: the story does not try to untangle Indiana's recruiting tactics or indict Crean in any way. This is about the practices of Adams and how he runs his teams. There are many coaches in the business who don't favor Adams because they've felt they've lost out on countless recruits due to Adams' influence.
As you can see, Adams doesn't come off as pure and completely moral. In one story by Fish, a player recruited to America by Adams, David Nyarsuk, no longer has contact and fears he'll be deported. As of now, there is no investigation being done by the NCAA into Indiana or Crean, but there is with Mosquera-Perea. The 2012 recruit's eligibility remains in question due to issues dating back to his time as a Baylor recruit, as referenced in the drop quote above.
His connections and motives, he says, are clear and pure. But others in the high school and collegiate basketball communities keep asking questions: What about Adams' ties to Indiana University basketball and about how his son got a job under coach Tom Crean with no prior college coaching experience? What about whether Adams stops communicating with African basketball players if they don't follow his advice when selecting a college? What about Indiana Elite, which has evolved into a pipeline for top players to IU, punctuated by future verbal commitments through 2014? What is going on with his nonprofit's donations and expenditures? And what about gifts bestowed upon Colombian-born forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea, a top IU commitment for the Class of 2012?
Adams will have none of it, saying ESPN.com is asking the questions only at the suggestion of rival coaches and that it is "manufacturing" a story. He declined multiple interview requests before agreeing to answer a set of questions in email, but he ultimately told ESPN.com not to contact him again.
Indiana seems OK -- for now. Crean is quoted in the story about how intense the microscope he's under now, and he has a point: Indiana would be one of the toughest places to cheat in recruiting, considering the smoldering crater Sampson left the program in after his text-messaging infractions killed off scholarships and sent IU basketball to the bottom of the Big Ten. If Adams and Crean (and anyone on Crean's staff) aren't working in concert to get recruits from Indiana Elite to the Hoosiers, then the Hoosiers should be in the clear.
Adams will remain to have his enemies and skeptics, even if he is bringing over impoverished, raw basketball players and trying to give them better lives.
There will never be enough time or manpower to fully investigate all the goings ons with this country's AAU scene. Piece by piece, we get a clearer picture, though. And it remains as unsettling, confusing, suspicious and unseemly as ever -- even without true proof. Fish's reporting, above all else, undresses Adams and force us to at least question his motives.