Sunday, April 27, 2003

Let's hope XU reason kids come

At least Thad Matta is honest. When Matta walks into a recruit's home, he makes an attempt to sell Xavier and not used cars.

"Come to Xavier for the school," he'll say. Not for Thad Matta.

Matta might not be the No. 1 candidate for the open Illinois job. But he's in the photo. There is a good chance the Illini will name a new coach in the next week.

If it's Matta, he'll have had three head coaching jobs in four years. And he's just 35.

Is there anything wrong with that?

Only if you're disingenuous. Only if you invade Mr. Blue Chip's living room and tell him you're not going anywhere anytime soon, certainly not as long as Mr. Blue Chip's on campus. When former Illinois coach Bill Self signed a five-year contract extension in December, he announced he was with the Illini "for the long haul."

Coaches hardly selfless

Recruits slept better.

At least until a week ago, when Self left for Kansas. "Long haul" apparently is subject to varying definitions.

Then there's Roy Williams. Pious, self-righteous Roy was Self's predecessor at KU. He "loved" his players. Or maybe he just loved his seniors, Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison. When they left, Williams took his love to North Carolina.

Not long ago, Thad Matta met with Shaun Pruitt, a recruit from Illinois. Pruitt's parents asked Matta if the coach planned to stay at Xavier. Matta was honestly vague.

"I understand you're choosing a coach," he said. "But you also need to choose a university."

Fair enough. A kid who hears that has no gripe when the coach takes another job.

It's fashionable to bleed for big-time college jocks. They don't get paid. They can't leave one school to play for another without sitting out a year. They're being used, don't you know.

But if you're signing with Illinois and Bill (I'm In It For My-) Self, you know you're rolling the dice.

Also: Doesn't loyalty cut both ways? When a prime-time recruit asks a coach, "Are you going to be there the next four years?" shouldn't the coach have a right to ask, "Are you?"

Doellman's right on

"It's almost like choosing an employer," said Dan Doellman, father of Justin Doellman, a Xavier signee from Ryle High.

"It's not just about playing ball. You don't just look at the boss, you look at the institution."

Doellman's right.

The school isn't going anywhere. The school doesn't talk with forked tongue. The school doesn't talk at all. (Can you imagine what UNLV would say if it could talk?)

I once had a sports editor in Dallas who hired me, then left for a New York newspaper less than a year later. I followed him there, only to see him leave again, for Sports Illustrated. I didn't begrudge him. I congratulated him.

Is there a difference between that and a college kid who loses his coach? Sure. The college kid doesn't pack up a family and a dog when he transfers.

"A coach's responsibility to a player is to treat him right and try to make him a better person and player," Matta said. It's not to insulate the player from real-world changes.

So maybe the lesson is, whenever a college basketball coach starts talking about love and long hauls, your best move is for the door.

Honesty is the only responsibility a coach has to a player.


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