Category archive: Marist Red Foxes

Late last week Iona received news that Lamont "MoMo" Jones, instrumental in helping Arizona to the Elite Eight last season, has been granted a hardship waiver and can play immediately, instead of sitting in residence under NCAA rules.

The MAAC regular-season conference race and postseason automatic qualifier berth just got more interesting and competitive with Jones joining the Gaels.

The truth is this league was already locked in to having one of the best races, outside of the power six, with or without Jones.

But now that he's eligible, the stakes are even higher with Fairfield and Iona preparing for what should be a chase to the finish. At the MAAC level, it will rival anything the Horizon or Missouri Valley has to offer this season.

[+] Enlarge
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireAdding MoMo Jones to Iona's lineup makes the Gaels better. But will it be good enough to get past Fairfield in the MAAC?

"This league is very top heavy,'' said St. Peter's coach John Dunne, whose Peacocks stunned the field by winning the MAAC AQ on Fairfield's home court in Bridgeport, Conn., last season. "Iona and Fairfield are the most talented. The additions they have clearly make them much more talented. But it will be interesting to see how the dynamic changes those teams.''

Loyola (Md.) and Rider, both with many returnees, are seen as the potential St. Peter's in this league -- a team that could surprise the favorites and win the automatic berth with three strong days in Springfield, Mass. (site of this season's MAAC tournament).

"We got Jordan Latham eligible from Xavier, too,'' Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos said. "I like Fairfield 1, Iona 2 and us and Rider after that. I think it could be a great race. We're deep. We're not as talented. But we're as deep as any team in the league. The key will be Jeff Jones from Virginia for Rider. Can he light it up or not? Fairfield has a new coach, but [it'll] be fine. And [Iona's] [Mike] Glover will be a targeted man.''

MoMo Jones joins an Iona team that is led by returnees Scott Machado on the wing and Glover inside.

Boston College transfer Rakim Sanders is eligible to join the Stags, last season's regular-season MAAC champs, alongside returnees Derek Needham and center Ryan Olander.

The difference between the Stags and Gaels is that Fairfield has two high-profile transfers instead of just one. Former Houston point guard Desmond Wade is also eligible, and he'll take over as the playmaker, sliding Needham to the wing with Sanders as a forward. "I think Rakim is the best player in the league,'' said former Fairfield coach Ed Cooley, now the head coach at Providence. "I don't think there is one matchup in the MAAC [that doesn't favor] him. There is an answer for Glover in the MAAC, and that's length in Olander. The question will be Fairfield's overall chemistry. Now there is a true point guard in Desmond Wade. But the X factor will be Rakim, because no one is close to him.''

Sanders was a tough matchup for ACC teams that played the Eagles. But his last season with BC started poorly with an ankle injury, and neither he nor the team recovered, as he couldn't fit back into the lineup with Reggie Jackson. Sanders found a new home with Cooley, a former BC assistant with strong ties to Sanders and Eagles coach Al Skinner. Cooley is gone, but new coach Sydney Johnson, formerly of Princeton, has been pleasantly surprised by Sanders so far.

The team went to Italy in August, and through the first week of practice, Sanders has lived up to the hype. "He has been very good for us, and there is a reason he started his career in the ACC,'' Johnson said. "He has that caliber of talent. He has a high basketball IQ. He looks the part, too. He's a strong physical kid, who is fast and quick and has an understanding of how to play. He does the right things, and he's unselfish. I'm very pleased with him.''

Johnson said Wade is much more of a natural point, but he can play off the ball like Needham. He said he plans to alternate who handles the ball.

That question is an ongoing issue at Iona now that MoMo Jones is eligible. Machado handled it last season. And Jones did the same for Arizona. Cooley said taking the ball out of Machado's hands could hurt the chemistry, unless this team jells quickly together.

Iona coach Tim Cluess hadn't addressed this topic, because he didn't know Jones' fate for this season. Jones got the waiver because he transferred back to New York, his hometown, to be closer to his ailing grandmother.

How does he solve the problem with who has the ball? "Get two balls,'' Cluess said. "That's the interesting part. Realistically we're just starting to work on it on the court since we didn't want to invest time since we didn't know if they could play together. We will look at who has the ball, will they be interchangeable or if either can play the wing.''

Finding consistency next to Glover inside is also a question for the next few weeks. The expectation was that junior forward Taaj Ridley could be that person, but he has been hampered by foot and Achilles issues.

"I think it's wide-open,'' said Cluess, whose Gaels lost to St. Peter's in the MAAC final last March after the Peacocks upset Fairfield. "Fairfield has the edge. They won it last year, and they have two high-major players. But Loyola has five starters back and is a team that is dangerous. We have to make sure we have that team chemistry. Fairfield has the Boston College transfer, and he could be the best player in the league. They added Wade to what should be a powerhouse. But I like our chances against anybody with the way we shoot the ball.''

Iona and Fairfield have the mix of high-level transfers and four-year players who have blossomed into high-level college players. Each team could win a NCAA tournament game or two in the right scenario. But getting an at-large berth will be determined in the next two months.

The schedules for each favor getting recognized by the selection committee in March. Iona is in the wide-open Puerto Rico Tip-Off with an opener against Purdue on Nov. 17 and the possibility of playing Temple if the Gaels can knock off the Boilermakers. Playing at Marshall, a C-USA top-two team and going on the road in a winnable matchup at Richmond highlight the schedule. It doesn't hurt for power-rating points that Iona plays 11 road games before January.

Fairfield plays at Minnesota, a sleeper in the Big Ten, and has a legit shot to win the weakened Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla. Beating Old Dominion in December in Springfield will help, too. Drawing top-five UConn in Hartford, Conn., and visiting Drexel in late December will also assist the power rating.

Johnson walked into a ready-made situation to win again. "This isn't a rebuilding project,'' said Johnson, who led the Tigers to a thrilling Ivy League playoff win over Harvard and then nearly clipped Kentucky in the NCAA tournament opener for both teams. "Ed positioned us. We don't have a lot of excuses. We're preparing ourselves the best we can for March. I want to look in the mirror and when the time comes I want us to have done everything we can to seize the moment and this opportunity.''

The fallout from coach Matt Brady and his current employer James Madison losing a civil suit against his former employer, Marist College, over a breach of his contract will likely have at least one consequence: A clause in a coach's contract with his university that forbids the coach from talking to recruits he spoke with while working for the previous school likely will never been seen again.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles D. Wood ruled in favor of Marist earlier this week and ruled that a clause in Brady's four-year deal signed in 2007 was indeed enforceable when Brady began discussions with James Madison in 2008. Wood cited paragraph 14 in Brady's contract that stated rather uniquely:

"In the event that the Employee terminates his employment with the College to accept another basketball coaching position, the coach agrees to turn over all program records and files and agrees to end any further contact with program recruits. In addition, the College will not permit any currently enrolled men's basketball student-athlete to transfer to the institution at which the coach will be employed. Coach also agrees that he will not offer a scholarship to a current Marist basketball player or to a prospective player being recruited to play at Marist."

Brady's attorney, Columbus-based Joseph Murray, who also represented former Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien when he won a suit against the Buckeyes for terminating him without pay before an NCAA investigation occurred, doesn't see this case having any lasting effect.

"The ruling against James Madison is based upon a procedural issue and has nothing to do with the enforceability of the relevant provisions in Matt Brady's contract," Murray said. "The decision has no precedential effect at this point and time."

Still, it is the unique clause which is forcing those that negotiate contracts to pause. Not one had ever heard of such a clause -- and it's important to note that Brady negotiated the contract on his own, without a lawyer (he only later hired Murray).

"I would never accept that," said coaching agent Gary O'Hagan of IMG, who represents a number of high-profile college basketball, college football and NFL coaches. "I'm not sure how you could regulate free speech like that."

[+] Enlarge
Matt Brady
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezMatt Brady is at the center of a lawsuit that's being closely watched in the college community.

"If I ever had a coach sign a contract with that clause, I would make him sign a letter with me fully understanding what you signed," said Ropes and Gray's Dennis Coleman, a Providence and Boston-based agent who represents a number of college basketball coaches. "That kind of provision in a contract is a non-starter. I wouldn't accept it. I would not advise my client to agree to that."

Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson, who negotiated John Calipari's contracts while he was at the school, had no problem with Calipari continuing to recruit players at Kentucky who he had courted while at Memphis -- players like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Darnell Dodson. There was no stipulation in Calipari's contract that he was forbidden to talk to recruits.

"I wouldn't do that," Johnson said. "For the school, that's a great contract, but I deal a lot with [agent] Jimmy Sexton and there's no way he'd sign off on something like that."

Yet, that's hardly how Marist College saw the inclusion of such a clause.

"That's in the contract," Marist College attorney Paul Sullivan said. "Like every term, no one forced the coach. All terms were negotiated. Why would you have a contract? Why would you give someone a four-year deal? Why not just have a handshake and walk away? Negotiated terms have consequences for both sides."

Sullivan said that there is an expense in recruiting that Marist wants to get back.

"Marist College isn't restricting any student-athletes," Sullivan said. "None of this action is about the student-athletes, but rather the conduct of the coach and the university. That's the issue here."

Marist came up with a list of 19 players that Brady once recruited for Marist that the school believed he shouldn't have been able to pursue at James Madison. But four players recruited by Brady while at Marist ended up following him to James Madison in Virginia. Julius Wells actually signed with the Red Foxes, was released from his national letter of intent and has been the Dukes' second-leading scorer the past two years. He averaged 16.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game last season.

Andrey Semenov, Trevon Flores and Alvin Moore are the other three. Flores was a role player off the bench last season, while injuries have hurt Moore and Semenov's effectiveness the past two years.

Sullivan said Marist, led by Director of Athletics Tim Murray and President Dennis Murray, tried to "resolve the matter" to negotiate a separation. But James Madison, according to Marist, ignored the request. Murray didn't return a message and neither did JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne. JMU had tried to dismiss the case to no avail.

Justice Wood has ordered attorneys for James Madison and the Commonwealth of Virginia to appear before his court on Monday for damages. Brady's side is curious to see what kinds of damages are placed on JMU, considering Marist didn't recruit any of the aforementioned departed players and released Wells from his letter of intent.

Brady declined to comment on the case, saying that he still may need to speak in court. But there is a deeper background to this story. Brady did pursue a renegotiated contract at Marist after he led the Red Foxes to 25 wins and an NIT appearance in 2007, his third season with the school. He wanted to be in the top three in the MAAC in salary, but according to a source, he had trouble negotiating with Murray to dramatically increase his salary.

The contract also was stuffed, according to the source, with termination clauses and APR clauses and a buyout clause. Brady, according to the source, was so fed up with the negotiations and essentially had no relationship left with Murray that he signed the contract to get a $70,000 raise up to $200,000. But the new deal included paragraph 14.

Paragraph 14 starts out with these sentences: "Employee may not enter into discussions with another college, university or professional basketball organization regarding a coaching position unless he receives prior written permission of the Marist College Athletic Director. Furthermore, Employee may not accept another basketball coaching position unless it is mutually agreeable to the College and the Employee.''

This part of paragraph 14 is the reason Marist is seeking damages from JMU for "tortious interference" in a contract, as ruled by Justice Wood. This is where the potential trend of schools suing other schools could supposedly occur.

Not according to those in the business of negotiating contracts, though. While it is true that schools have pursued buyout provisions (i.e. West Virginia seeking them from John Beilein and Rich Rodriguez when both coaches went to Michigan), there is an unofficial rule that schools understand they will pursue coaches with existing contracts. If one school loses its coach who is under contract, then that school may go and grab another head coach under contract.

"I go into these things as fair as possible," Memphis AD Johnson said. "You want both sides to be happy, not both sides to be bitter. John gave us nine good years. I always appreciate that. If you have a hot coach like he was with us, then sometimes you bite the bullet and you do the best you can for your university and your school. I wouldn't go to this point."

Sullivan said the impact of this case remains to be seen. Clearly, if JMU incurs damages for hiring Brady, that decision will almost certainly be appealed.

The only certainties now are these: Brady and Murray didn't have much of a relationship; had it been much more than cordial, then his departure might not have headed down a legal path. Marist has struggled since Brady's departure, with Chuck Martin going 10-23 in his first season and 1-29 last season. JMU went 21-15 in Brady's first season and 13-20 last season; and with this suit hanging over his head and becoming a nuisance for JMU, Brady may feel more pressure to win sooner rather than later.