Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Ex-UC hoops player Donald Little gets jail

Prospects for NBA draft dim due to sentence

By Sharon Turco and Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A 30-day jail sentence imposed Tuesday might jeopardize former University of Cincinnati basketball center Donald Little's chance of being drafted by the NBA on Thursday.

Little was sentenced in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court on an assault charge for his part in an attack last year on a roommate, Justin Hodge.

Little, 25, along with another man who took part in the attack, Portifirio Baldwin, also will spend five years on probation, Judge Thomas Crush ruled.

The sentence shocked the 6-foot-11 native of Augusta, Ga., and others in the courtroom.

"We thought there would be straight probation," said Little's attorney, Theodore Froncek.

Little must report to the Hamilton County Justice Center on Friday.

The sentence will have at least some impact on Little's chance of getting drafted, but how much remains unknown, said his agent, Dan Yost. If drafted by a team, he would be expected to report for a summer camp as early as next week.

"I'm disappointed," Yost said. "The attorneys were confident he was just going to get probation. ... But I don't think it will totally ruin his chances."

Yost and Little are hoping the sentence could be stayed should Little be drafted, meaning the sentence would have to be appealed or the matter brought back to Crush's courtroom. Froncek said several options are being discussed.

Since graduating from UC a year ago, Little has played in the European basketball league.

During the hearing, Little and Baldwin apologized for hurting Hodge. They previously admitted punching him and kicking him.

"I regret everything, but you learn the hard way," Little said Tuesday.

Hodge did not come to court, despite the judge's request that he be there. Hodge initially indicted he did not want to see the men go to jail. However, in a victim's impact statement to the court, Hodge changed his mind and asked for jail time.

Baldwin was sentenced to spend 97 days in jail, time he served after being arrested. And the two men were ordered to pay $3,000 in restitution.

The incident began the night of March 29, 2002, after Little and Hodge, then 20, had driven to the bank where Little cashed a $2,500 university check for his room and board, prosecutors said.

The two men returned to their Fairview Heights apartment, where Little placed the money in his dresser drawer. When Little went to retrieve the money later, it was gone. He suspected the thief was Hodge, who had already gone home to Cleveland for the weekend.

A few days later, Little and several others confronted Hodge and punched him, knocking out a permanent bridge in his mouth, prosecutors said. They taped him to a chair, burned him with a heated coat hanger and stabbed him in the leg. Hodge, who denied stealing the money, was treated a University Hospital and released.

Two other men who took part in the attack have never been identified.

Little and Baldwin pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.

Hodge has filed civil suits against the men. Froncek said Hodge is trying to cash in on Little's basketball career. During talks about the civil suit Hodge filed against Little, Froncek said, Hodge's attorney indicated he wanted $1 million.

Hodge's attorney, Edison Hall of Cleveland, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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