Tuesday, April 09, 2002

UC image takes another bottle to the head




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        Why can't UC get better people to play its basketball games? Why, after 13 winning seasons, is Bob Huggins' national image as closely aligned with sins as with wins?

        We've tried lately to put the happy face on this program. The Bearcats graduate, some of them. They're staying out of the court system, most of them. They're no different from the rest of the ESPN-craving, soul-selling Division I horde, usually. But not now.

        Question: What is an almost-24-year-old man doing hitting his roommate in the head with a whiskey bottle ... then tying him up ... then burning him with ... a what? A coat hanger?

        It's alleged, all of it. Donald Little will get his day in court. Here's what's not alleged: UC basketball just took another bootheel to the face. Add Little's name to the Bearcats impressive lineup of perps: Dontonio Wingfield, Art Long, Ruben Patterson.

Buck stops at top

        I'm reluctant to blame basketball coaches for the rank off-court behavior of their players. Because, really, we don't blame professors for the rank, off-classroom behavior of their graduate assistants, do we?

        Until coaches are paid to graduate players and produce fine citizens, they shouldn't be graded on that scale. It's great if all-American jocks are also all-American human beings. Lots aren't. That's the players' problem.

        Yet Huggins is responsible for the guys in his program. If you don't want trouble, don't sign it. If that means winning 18 or 20 games a year instead of 28 or 30, maybe you make up for it with a sounder sleep.

        How hard would it have been to replace Little's seven points and seven rebounds a game? Easier than living down this latest footprint on your reputation.

        Whatever his motives — he does want to help players off the court, often more than they want to help themselves — Huggins welcomed a manchild back on his team who missed exactly zero games for his previous misdeeds. Little had a laundry list of rules to follow and counselors to hear, yeah. But he didn't miss a minute of playing time.

        Message: If you're a UC basketball player, screw up in the offseason.

Why take him?

        The bigger question is, why do you take a guy like Little? Then, why do you take him back? You win 300-plus games at one place. You send guys to the NBA, first-round picks. You're on TV every game, you're playing in March every year. Your former players love you, literally. Shouldn't the character bar be raised?

        Huggins was with Steve Logan in LA last weekend for the Wooden Award. Logan had a checkered off-court life in Clifton. But he worked, listened and became a first-team all-American. He's proof of the good Huggins does. Then there's Little, whose screw-ups will obscure Logan's triumph.

        If UC can recruit higher quality people, it should start. If it can't — and if it can't control its basketball players any better than it did Donald Little — Huggins should not protest the way the world sees his program.

        Right now, the world sees a joke. So how come nobody's laughing?

        E-mail: pdaugherty@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/daugherty.

Little stories:
UC boots Little May 20, 2001
Little charged in bar incident May 22, 2001
Little arraigned on assault charge May 23, 2001
Little's UC days may not be over July 25, 2001
Little pleads guilty in bar incident Sept. 6, 2001
UC reinstates Little Sept. 22, 2001
UC's Little accused of torturing roommate April 3, 2002
Little kicked off Bearcats April 4, 2002

       



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