When the Derrick Rose SAT story was all the rage, I reached out to Sonny Vaccaro, legendary insider of basketball, summer camps and the basketball shoe industry.
Vaccaro was reportedly an influential force in Rose's life back when he was in high school and entering college, and it seemed that someone with some first-hand knowledge of the situation would be well worth hearing from.
On Derrick Rose and Recruiting
We finally caught up recently, and Vaccaro says he has been close to the Roses, and has tremendous admiration for them.
He also said he had no idea about the minutiae of testing and all that, nor what actually happened, and couldn't really help me on that front. ("I do not know what happened," he says. "I do know that I never bought Derrick Rose so much as an ice cream cone.")
Among other things, he talked generally about how Derrick Rose came to be represented by his friend Arn Tellem: "Everyone can see that Derrick signed with Arn as his agent, and Arn is one of my best friends," says Vaccaro. "But I can tell you this: Other agents were probably more visible to [Derrick]. I was just as surprised as anyone when I heard of the choice. And no one credits [Tellem colleague and former NBA player] B.J. Armstrong with being a role model. He played for the Bulls when Derrick was growing up in Chicago, and was a role model to him. It was one of the most civil processes I've seen."
The conversation expanded to include other issues.
Punishment for the NCAA's Outsiders
I had heard a theory that the NCAA came down on hard on Memphis in part because it was embarrassing to have Memphis -- an outsider as a major college sports powerhouse -- holding the record for most wins in a season. (The power and income of college sports tends to emanate from the Bowl Championship Series schools.)
Vaccaro, a noted NCAA antagonist, sees that as entirely possible.
"They seem to be what makes the whole thing run, the Bowl Championship Series schools. I would think that the lesser schools get the punishments ... The whole thing starts with the B.C.S. schools. There is no multimillion dollar empire without the B.C.S. schools. It just goes without saying," Vaccaro says, "that some schools are almost immune to this kind of punishment."
He brought up one of the NCAA's most famous and egregious tales of a violation -- the 2006 Reggie Bush incident at the University of Southern California.
"Go back to Memphis, go back to Derrick Rose. Nothing has happened to Southern Cal football yet? It's very ironic that we're sidestepping this here. That's very interesting. ... Southern Cal football is one of the biggest entities in college sports. Just interesting. ... You have a lot of clout when you're a B.C.S. school."
(By the way, did you also notice the recent news about college football programs allegedly breaking NCAA rules that limit how much time college students can spend practicing sports? Since that story broke, several basketball insiders have suggested plenty of college basketball programs breaks the same rules.)
What is the Point of College?
Vaccaro makes an interesting point. The whole theory of elite basketball players going to the NCAA before the NBA is to indulge the notion that young people need to be well-rounded. They need to mature and learn things off the court, instead of just being in a hellish rush to make money as quickly as possible.
But it doesn't ring true, of course, when you see that the NCAA is a thriving entertainment industry driven by elite players who don't get paid, and also generally don't get much of an education either. It can get hazy. What is the point here? Education, or unpaid labor for the vast entertainment industry?
In any case, Vaccaro tells an interesting story that rings wholly true.
He says he recently spoke to a woman who is the mother of one of the best high-school players in the nation. Her family has been meeting with all kinds of college coaches who are recruiting her son.
The meta-point of this moment, of course, is that this is when the world of college comes courting this mother. Whatever the NCAA has to offer, now is its moment. Here is the pitch from the world of chemistry, literature, mathematics, poetry, and growing up in a supportive environment and making lifelong friends before entering the harsh professional world of the NBA.
And what do these people have to say to her? Vaccaro says that she complains that every single coach she has talked to really only has one point: They can get her son to the NBA.
You see the irony there? If you're a top player, you can get yourself to the NBA. Or the D-League or the Euroleague or any number of private trainers and the like can get you there. College basketball is supposed to feature college. All those late night study sessions, and writing papers and getting smarter and more worldly.
And according to this account of events, it's not even part of the pitch.