THE TULANE POINT-SHAVING CASE: SCORE ONE FOR THE DEFENSE
As Hurricane Danny threatened the Louisiana coast last week, another storm raged in Room 209 of the New Orleans Criminal Court Building. Former Tulane basketball center John Williams, 24, was on trial on two counts of sports bribery and three counts of conspiracy for his alleged role in point-shaving schemes involving three games last season. But on Thursday afternoon, four days into the trial, Judge Alvin Oser granted a defense motion for a mistrial, accusing the state, which he had previously admonished for withholding evidence from Williams's lawyers, of "repeatedly and intentionally" goading the defense into asking for a mistrial. The abrupt end to the turbulent proceedings raised the possibility that the case against Williams might never be reopened.
The specter of such a development dismayed the prosecution, which had lined up a parade of witnesses against Williams and procured what it said was a videotaped confession from him. "Our case couldn't have been much better," a source in the D.A.'s office said. "But now it's blowing up in our faces."
Before the six-member jury was impaneled, one state witness, former Green Wave guard Bobby Thompson, who had pleaded guilty in a plea-bargain deal, had given Oser his account of the fixes. Once the trial began, Mark Olensky, David Rothenberg and Gary Kranz, the Tulane students accused of masterminding the fixes, gave their versions of what happened, as did two more of Williams's former teammates, Clyde Eads and Jon Johnson.
August 25, 1985
Kranz testified that after a game with Southern Miss, which Tulane, a 10½-point favorite, won 64-63, Williams talked openly of point-shaving. "John said, 'I could miss a foul shot here or pick up a foul there and Coach [Ned] Fowler would set me down,' " said Kranz. Eads told of approaching Williams with the point-shaving scheme on Feb. 2, the day of the game. Williams, he said, agreed to go along. During cross-examination Williams's attorney, Michael Green, tried to show that his client had been framed.
As the trial proceeded, the state's case collapsed under the weight of delays, legal wrangling, mistrial and dismissal motions and, not least, the prosecution's dubious conduct. At one point prosecutors were forced to admit that a taped statement by Johnson had never been given to defense lawyers as required. Angered by that and other prosecution transgressions, Oser said, "I have never in 26 years seen anything like this case."
The prosecution's troubles had actually begun when Assistant D.A. Eric Dubelier was disqualified from trying the case because he had witnessed Williams's alleged taped confession. The case was reassigned to Assistant D.A.s Bruce Whittaker and Jim Williams, who are more conversant with homicide and narcotics cases. "We've only worked two weeks full-time on the case," said Williams. Another prosecution source said, "We're talking unprepared."
After the mistrial was declared, one juror, Armand Lagarde Sr., said he and his fellow jurors had been leaning 5-1 toward acquittal—although, of course, they had heard testimony from only some of the scheduled witnesses. "The prosecution just didn't present enough evidence that Hot Rod Williams committed any type of offense," Lagarde said. "It appeared like an entrapment."
Even if Williams is spared a retrial, his basketball future is uncertain. Cleveland picked him in the second round of the NBA's June draft. If the Cavaliers don't make Williams an offer by Sept. 5, he'll become a free agent. The club says it is awaiting league clearance before opening any negotiations. As for Williams, all he would say was "I'm going to get myself in shape."
THE HORFORD AFFAIR
Remember Tito Horford? He's the highly touted 7'1", 245-pound center from the Dominican Republic who was improperly recruited by the University of Houston, as reported in SI's July 22 issue. Houston's misdeed occurred last summer, during one of the NCAA's noncontact periods, when Cougar assistant coach Donnie Schverak visited Horford's home in La Romana. After SI's story appeared, Houston declared Horford ineligible, as required by the NCAA when violations of that sort are uncovered. Houston took the added steps of dropping two scholarships from its basketball program and banning Schverak from off-campus recruiting for one year. Those last two measures were apparently meant to appease the NCAA, because the school almost immediately asked the NCAA to restore Horford's eligibility.
Last week Houston officials argued before the NCAA's eligibility committee that Schverak's visit hadn't given them an unfair recruiting edge. Horford, they claimed, had decided to attend the college even before Schverak arrived in July. However, Horford told SI's Bill Brubaker that he hadn't settled on Houston until November, which is why he visited the campuses of LSU, Kentucky and UCLA after his meeting with Schverak.
The committee, which in the past has given athletes the benefit of the doubt in such cases, flatly denied Houston's appeal. As one NCAA official explained, "There was the feeling that the coach's visit gave Houston a significant advantage because the only opportunity a coach would have to sit down with both Tito and his mother was during that summer noncontact period."
An NCAA subcommittee on eligibility appeals will soon hear Houston's second and final appeal. If it's denied, Horford will be free to play for another school. There has even been a report out of Milan that an Italian league team is interested in him.
AN OFF DAY
Despite the fact that his team lost all 11 games in 1984, Tennessee Tech football coach Gary Darnell has a positive outlook. "Our kicker had only one bad day last year," he says. "Saturday."
THE SAX EXCHANGE
Was Los Angeles Rams linebacker Mel Owens merely being tongue-in-sheik when he failed to show for the first three days of training camp and threatened to retire to Saudi Arabia? The unsigned free agent claimed he was ready to go into business with two Arab friends.
The Rams weren't about to take any chances. They gave Owens a new contract. But others were skeptical. So Owens asked his two pals to drop by practice. One even wore a white Middle Eastern tunic. "I was serious about going and earning tax-free money there," Owens says. "I also figured I'd have a lot of free time there to learn how to play the saxophone."
Exercising the sports prognosticator's inalienable right to be dead wrong, New York Daily News columnist Phil Pepe has lately pulled a couple of beauts. In April, Pepe scooped the sporting press by reporting that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner wouldn't dare fire popular manager Yogi Berra this season. The "backlash would be too much for Steinbrenner to handle," Pepe asserted. Berra was axed that afternoon. Earlier this month, in a piece headlined FAREWELL TO BASEBALL SEASON, Pepe said, "I have no inside information, merely a gut feeling that we might have seen the end of baseball for 1985." Sure enough, the strike was settled that very day.
Pointing out that "sportswriters aren't paid on how many times they're right and wrong," Daily News sports editor Vic Ziegel says he stands behind Pepe. He adds, though, "Let's just hope that Phil doesn't predict we'll see peace in our time."
A PRACTICE JUMP TO REMEMBER
Competing at a meet on Aug. 11 in the provincial Ukrainian town of Donetsk, 6'7" Soviet high jumper Rudolf Povarnitsyn hoped to boost a seemingly stagnant career merely by topping his personal best of 7'5". But in heat that reached 113°, the 23-year-old flopper stunned officials, his coach, the crowd and himself by setting a world record of 7'10½".
Povarnitsyn had been an obscure figure in top-class Soviet sports. He was born in Udmurtia, an autonomous republic east of the Volga River near Kazan. He started out as a basketball player, but his height intrigued a local track coach, who convinced him to switch to high jumping. Povarnitsyn mastered the Fosbury Flop and joined the Dynamo sports club. He trained there and at other clubs over the next four years without distinction. In the last year, however, he improved by leaps, if not bounds, and was invited to join the prestigious Institute for Physical Culture in Kiev. "We worked with determination," says his coach, Vladimir Kiba. "The guy had a future."
But in Donetsk neither the coach nor anyone else expected what was to come. As the bar went up past 7'6" and then to 7'8½", Kiba got so excited he forgot what the European record was. "Go for the world," a fellow coach told him. So Kiba had the bar set to 7'10½", half an inch over the world mark set by China's Zhu Jianhua in 1984.
Povarnitsyn missed once, then a second time. "I was terribly excited," he said later. "Then I calmed down and told myself, 'Just imagine this is a practice jump.' " On his third and final attempt he skimmed over and the bar held. "I don't believe it," he said, shaking his head as he read and reread a winner's diploma that certified him as the world's best. And took the flop out of flopper.
THEY SAID IT
•Miller Barber, a top player on the senior golfers' circuit: "When I had hair, they'd just invented dirt."
•Don Baylor, New York Yankees DH and judge of the team's kangaroo court, on oddball pitcher Bob Shirley: "When we broke camp this spring, I fined Shirley for making the club."
•LaVell Edwards, Brigham Young football coach, whose wife, Patti, writes a sports column for a Utah newspaper: "She was more fun to sleep with before she became a sportswriter."
•Roy Smith, Cleveland Indians pitcher, after getting beaned by a batted ball and sent to a hospital for observation: "I stayed up all night trying to think of a great quote that would make it into SPORTS ILLUSTRATED."