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Package deals

Shameless plug alert: If you get a chance this week, check out the 'Bag's feature story in Sports Illustrated on Kansas State's Michael Beasley, the ultrasmooth 6-foot-9 forward who's the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA Draft.

I enjoyed speaking for two hours with Beasley, whose life story is fascinating in many ways, but one particularly intriguing aspect is how the Washington D.C.-area native ended up at Kansas State, considering Beasley told me that when he first considered becoming a Wildcat: "I couldn't find Kansas on a map."

It's not that complicated, really. Beasley is the clearest high-profile example in years of a so-called package deal, in which a team hires a new staff member who takes advantage of a pre-existing relationship to help land a top recruit. It all comes back to Beasley's close ties since age 13 with Dalonte Hill, who was one of Beasley's coaches on the powerful D.C. Assault AAU team. In September 2003, three weeks after Charlotte hired Hill away from D.C. Assault as an assistant, Beasley gave a verbal commitment to the 49ers. Then in June 2006, two months after then-Kansas State coach Bob Huggins poached Hill for his own staff, Beasley announced he was going to Manhattan, even though he had never seen the campus.

"My first question for Dalonte was, 'What is Kansas State?'" says Beasley. "I couldn't find Kansas on a map. I didn't know it was a big-time school. But then my trust kicked in. Loyalty means everything to me." When Hill was promoted to associate head coach at Kansas State in the wake of Huggins's departure for West Virginia last spring, Beasley kept his commitment to join the Wildcats.

Beasley's case is hardly the only instance of a package deal in college basketball these days. At least 10 current teams around the nation have gone the extra mile by hiring close associates of hotly contested recruits, including elite freshmen like Indiana's Eric Gordon, Arizona State's James Harden and Texas A&M's DeAndre Jordan. (See chart below.)

Do package deals violate NCAA rules? Not unless employment is expressly conditional on a player's enrollment. (And what kind of coach would be stupid enough to spell it out like that?) But whether package deals are ethical depends on whom you ask.

"I would never consider doing it," North Carolina coach Roy Williams told me, adding he has passed up the opportunity to do a package deal on two occasions when recruiting a player. "Both times I told the person, 'I will recruit the kid or I'll interview you as a coach, but we're not going to do both.' I thought it would almost end up being like a clique on my team and staff. And in saying that, I think sometimes it's not a problem. For me it's not the best situation, but I think you need to look at each one specifically."

Other coaches argue that in the cutthroat world of recruiting, you'd be a sucker not to use every legal means possible, since one of your rivals always will. "If there were no rules violated, then what's the problem?" says Memphis coach John Calipari, who famously hired Milt Wagner as his director of operations in 2001, the same year that Wagner's son Dajuan, one of the nation's top recruits, joined the Tigers.

Sonny Vaccaro, the powerful former grassroots hoops czar for several shoe companies, prefers to place package deals in a wider context. "This is no different than any aspect of the structure of corporate America," Vaccaro says. "If you can add a commodity -- the ballplayer, in this instance -- and you need to bring somebody with him, is it any different from Wall Street taking all the kids who graduated from Duke or Notre Dame? I see nothing wrong with it, and it's been going on forever."

He's certainly right about that. Former LSU coach Dale Brown mastered the package deal beginning in the 1970s, hiring the high school coaches of Howard "Hi C" Carter, Rudy Macklin, Nikita Wilson and Stanley Roberts. A package deals has also played a central role in at least one national title: Kansas won the 1988 championship behind Danny Manning, who chose to join the Jayhawks over North Carolina after Larry Brown added Manning's father, Ed, to his staff. (Ever-grateful Kansas fans thought it was a brilliant move, while Tar Heels supporters pointed out that the elder Manning's previous job was as a truck driver.)

Twenty years later, just a few miles down the road in Manhattan, Dalonte Hill says he has no plans to depart K-State the moment Beasley leaves. Perhaps, perhaps not. But it's worth noting that package hires sometimes remain in a program longer than most pundits expect. Of the resolved package-deal examples compiled by SI.com over the past 10 years, about half of the hires were gone within one year of the players' departures. (A prime example was Tim Thomas' high school coach, Jim Salmon, who resigned as a Villanova assistant to start the Tim Thomas Playaz AAU team almost immediately after Thomas left school.)

But the other half was still with the same program at least five seasons after the package player was gone. That group happens to include Memphis's Milt Wagner, who stayed with the Tigers for five seasons after his son left school before accepting an assistant coaching position this season at UTEP (under former Memphis assistant Tony Barbee). "People can look at Milt Wagner and say he was at Memphis for six years and got a college degree," says Calipari with more than a hint of I-told-you-so in his voice. "And now he's working for Tony, so he's still within our family."

Indeed, when it comes to package deals it may be wise not to make too many assumptions. In 2003, then-Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson hired as his assistant Chuck Benson, the son of Charlie Benson, the longtime coach of the Tennessee Travelers AAU team. The Bensons had sold Peterson on the idea that Chuck could land Corey Brewer, a Travelers alum and the Tennessee high school player of the year, for the Volunteers. But little did Peterson know that the hiring of Benson had "the opposite" effect, says Brewer's mother, Glenda Rogan, helping send Brewer to Florida instead.

The rest is college basketball history: by 2005 Peterson (and Benson) had been fired in Knoxville, and Brewer was on his way to playing a starring role in back-to-back national titles for the Gators.

So-called package deals are taking place around the country as the high school and AAU coaches of recruits (as well as some relatives) are being hired by programs that may be seeking an extra edge in the recruiting process.

We were on vacation last week, so there's not a lot of topical questions in the 'Bag; make sure to send some in and I'll get to them next week.

In our "reader nomination" department, several of you responded to our call for players in recent years who've started as walk-ons for Top 25-quality teams. By far the most popular nomination was Christian Moody of Kansas, whom Billy Packer once called (with uncommon hyperbole, for him at least) the greatest walk-on in the history of college basketball.

But there were a few other nominations as well, to wit:

Christian Moody, Kansas (Jared Miller, Overland Park, Kan.)

Sean Farnham, UCLA (Andrew, Los Angeles)

Ravi Moss, Kentucky (Ryan, Lexington, Ky.)

Mark Coury, Kentucky (Phil, Hebron, Ky.)

Cameron Mills, Kentucky (Tom, Milwaukee, Wis.)

Antoine Pettway, Alabama (Ryan Wallace, Hartselle, Ala.)

David Noel, North Carolina (Al Porter, Durham, N.C.)

Wes Miller, North Carolina (Al Porter, Durham, N.C.)

Clayton Hanson, Wisconsin (Mark Hanson, Madison, Wis.)

Chris Walker, Texas A&M (Jacob Lappa, Dallas, Texas)

Michael Lindeman, Creighton (Tim, Omaha, Neb.)

This week's question: Can readers name any more examples of package deals for top recruits, either player who are currently playing or those who've already committed to a school for next season or the year after?

I was intrigued by the letter in the last 'Bag about Maryland's Gary Williams, and by your response. We all know that recruiting has always been the lifeblood of success in college hoops (and football). But I was always impressed by how coaches like Williams were able to take raw guys and mold them. You could see the progression even within a season. But now I wonder: Given the sheer firepower that teams like Memphis are bringing to bear these days, is the pendulum swinging away from the teachers? --Dick Friedman, Central Jersey

Good question: I think the pendulum may in fact be swinging away from the teachers. One reason is probably the NBA age-minimum rule, which has brought several one-and-done players (read: firepower) to the highest levels of college basketball. This is also an area where Gary Williams in particular has suffered from the loss of so many good assistants in recent years. (Those teachers can be hard to replace.)

That said, I don't think teaching has completely disappeared in the game. Look at Georgetown's Roy Hibbert, a skilled big man who was an all-time stiff when he arrived on campus. And look at the three Florida lottery picks: Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer. Only one of them (Brewer) was a McDonald's All-American, while Noah barely played his freshman season. I don't think it's a coincidence that during their time in Gainesville the Gators had perhaps the nation's top teaching assistant in Larry Shyatt, along with two other amazing assistants in Anthony Grant (now the head man at VCU) and Donnie Jones (now the head coach at Marshall).

As for our next question, Gordon from Morehead City, N.C., had a comment on our last column, in which we asked why more coaches don't toss out "junk" defenses to surprise (and rattle) opponents more often:

The reason more coaches forgo "junk" defenses is that the perception among the elite programs is the only teams with lesser talent and lesser coaches play anything but man-to-man. I even heard a commentator on a radio broadcast say that playing zone is admitting that your team is not good enough to go man to man. I disagree. A good diamond-and-one or triangle-and-two can really throw off a team's offensive rhythm. Especially if that team is overly dependent on one player to do the majority of the scoring or ball-handling.

We don't know if West Virginia's Bob Huggins is a reader of the 'Bag (in fact, we highly doubt it), but part of us wonders if he read our column two weeks ago. We had cited USC's surprise triangle-and-two that flustered Memphis earlier this season, and sure enough, Huggs said he had called USC's Tim Floyd before tossing out the triangle-and-two that did a number on Marquette in Morgantown last week.

"I didn't really know anything about the triangle-and-two, but Tim Floyd really helped us out a bunch," Huggins told reporters.

For any of you eagle-eyed readers, please let the 'Bag know if you see any other examples of "junk" defenses in the college ranks, and we'll mention them in a future column.

Sometimes you just have to tell a good story that comes your way. This week's comes from Fatima Smith, the mother of Michael Beasley. We love talking to players' moms, and Ms. Smith, whom I spoke to at length for my story in this week's SI, is the best "mom" interview I've had in a long time, even slightly better than O.J. Mayo's mom, Alisha. (She even has her own blog, Mama Sayz, on the Web site of the Wichita Eagle.)

Anyway, I'll let Beasley's mom tell her story, which confirms that Mayo was indeed speaking the truth when he memorably told coach Tim Floyd that he'd help with the recruiting at USC:

"I got a famous call from O.J. last year. He called me two days before signing day on my cellphone asking for Michael. I'm puzzled, because Michael's away in school. Who's calling Michael on my cellphone? He says, 'May I speak to Michael?' I say, 'He's not here. Who's calling?'"

"He says his name is like O'Jambolin or something. [Mayo's real name is Ovington J'Anthony]. He didn't say O.J. Mayo. I say, 'Who?' He says, 'O.J., O.J. Mayo.' I say, 'Hi, how you doin'? Are you goin' to Kansas State?' He says, 'No, Ms. Beasley,' which drives me nuts. My name is Smith!

"He says, 'Ms. Beasley, I'm just calling to see if we can get Michael to come out to USC.' I say, 'Oh, no, sugar, no, sweetie pie, you need to come to Kansas State.' He's like, 'Ms. Beasley, we'll look out for Michael. I'll keep an eye out for him myself.'

"I say, 'O.J., you need someone to look out for you! Why don't you just come to Kansas State? It'll be a great team.' He says, 'We'll have a great team too.' I say, 'O.J., if you were having a great team you wouldn't be calling me at the 11th hour. Call Huggs. I'm sure he'll take you.' So I called Huggs and said, 'Hey, I just offered O.J. a scholarship. You got one? Dalonte [Hill], you got a scholarship?' They said, 'No, you're the one who offered him a scholarship!

"But I like O.J. He's very marketable. He has a great smile, and he's so charismatic. He's a face for somethin'. Michael's not bad-looking. I tell him to start smiling a little more and he puts that plastic smile on. But O.J. smiles and the world lights up! Michael, he's just a goofball."

Ladies and gentlemen, Mike Beasley's mom.

Send your questions in, and we'll get to them next week, along with our top movies of 2007 and (drumroll please) the world-renowned Your Company Name Here Magic Eight, our annual listing of the eight teams from which we guarantee the national champion will emerge.

Have a great week.

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