Saturday, March 1, 2003

Louisville's Stone still eligible, attorney said

By Chris Duncan
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Louisville senior center Marvin Stone practiced Friday, but his playing status for the rest of the season remained tenuous as the NCAA continued an inquiry into his ties to an amateur program.

Donald Jackson, an attorney retained by Stone's family, said the NCAA has been asking Stone about illegal benefits he received through Mark Komara, a Huntsville, Ala., businessman who also runs an AAU team there.

Jackson said the NCAA has been pressuring Louisville to suspend Stone, but the school has resisted.

Calls to the NCAA were referred to Laronica Conway, the agency's interim associate director of media relations. She did not immediately return a message left Friday by The Associated Press.

The No. 11 Cardinals (19-5, 9-4 Conference USA) play East Carolina (12-13, 3-11) at noon EST on Saturday. Stone was listed as a projected starter on game notes released by the school.

But Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Friday he wasn't sure if Stone would play.

"This is new to me. I thought, after 29 years, I've seen it all, but I haven't," Pitino said. "What's going to happen, I don't know. I'm totally naive and uneducated to all of these things."

Pitino said after Thursday's 78-73 loss to Marquette that he was "extremely disappointed" in the NCAA's decision to question Stone so close to the end of his career. He reinforced his frustrations on Friday.

"The timing of it all is what's wrong with this situation. It doesn't make sense to me," Pitino said. "You know why they're doing it, because in a few games, they're not going to get a return phone call."

Pitino said he spoke to Komara not long after Stone transferred from Kentucky, where he played from 1999-2001. Pitino sensed the relationship between Komara and Stone went deeper than the usual coach-player bond.

"Although I don't know him well, he thanked me and really appreciated what I was trying to do for Marvin and said, 'He's like my family for me, so I want to thank you,"' Pitino said of Komara. "That's probably the longest conversation I've had with this gentleman.

"I'm under the honest, sincere belief that this person was not his AAU coach," Pitino said. "This person had a genuine relationship with him. He truly loves this kid."

Stone had six points and five rebounds in Thursday's loss, Louisville's fourth in five games. Stone wouldn't say much about the situation after the game - only that it's been a distraction.

"It's been hard on me," he said. "I can't really speak about it."

Jackson reiterated Friday that neither Louisville nor Kentucky - where Stone played from 1999 to 2001 - is likely to face any penalties connected to Stone.

Stone is second on the Cardinals in points (10.9 per game), rebounds (7.4 per game) and blocked shots (29).

"I'm extremely disappointed because this is not about Louisville," Pitino said Thursday night. "This is about something that goes on in high school. It's an awful situation. I'm very disappointed because it's very disruptive."

Pitino has said since the beginning of the season that Stone has played a vital role in Louisville's climb in the national rankings. Pitino said he's drawing up two game plans - one with Stone and one without him - for Saturday's game.

Compounding the problem is the season-ending knee injury suffered by junior forward Ellis Myles against Marquette. Myles was the team's leading rebounder, and the two were the team's best low-post passers.

"A lot of our offense is off the low post," Pitino said. "Now, if we don't have Ellis and don't have Marvin, we're in big trouble."

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