|Monday, December 20
|The AAU coach of UCLA sophomore JaRon Rush and Missouri freshman Kareem Rush said Wednesday he never paid money to the pair during their college careers, but was given an "open checkbook" to recruit players for his AAU team.
JaRon Rush, the Bruins' leading rebounder last season, was suspended last Friday after the school was informed by the FBI of a possible NCAA violation involving the player's relationship with Myron Piggie Sr., the former coach of the AAU Children's Mercy Hospital 76ers.
Sources confirmed that last month Rush told a grand jury in Kansas City investigating alleged tax evasion by Piggie that he received money from the coach, as well as $200 from Los Angeles-based sports agent Jerome Stanley.
Kareem Rush, who played with his brother on the AAU team, was suspended by Missouri on Tuesday following an interview by the FBI in relation to the Piggie investigation.
"I didn't give JaRon one red cent since he got to UCLA," Piggie said. "It was not my money. It was never my money. If JaRon did anything wrong at UCLA, Myron Piggie had nothing to do with it. If Kareem did anything wrong at Missouri, Myron Piggie had nothing to do with it."
Sources confirmed the FBI has talked with the Rush brothers as well as former AAU teammate and current UCLA guard Earl Watson, but Watson's eligibility isn't in question. Piggie said he has not spoken with the FBI.
The amateur status of the Rush brothers is being evaluated by the NCAA while the players are sidelined. In three games for UCLA this season, JaRon Rush averaged 11.3 points and 4.7 rebounds. Kareem Rush averaged 10.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in eight games for Missouri.
If JaRon Rush took money from an agent, it could be repaid. He then could return to the team after serving a suspension. If he were deemed a professional before entering UCLA, then his college career would likely be over. UCLA would have to forfeit whatever wins came with Rush on the floor. In suspending the brothers, UCLA and Missouri are protecting themselves against having their current seasons compromised by an ineligible player.
During his three-year tenure as head coach of the CMH 76ers, Piggie said he was authorized by former CMH 76er sponsor Tom Grant to take care of JaRon Rush while he was at Kansas City's Pembroke High.
"AAU coaches don't have money like that," said Piggie, whose roster also included Orlando Magic first-round pick Corey Maggette and Korleone Young, who was selected by the Detroit Pistons in the second round of the 1998 NBA draft. "I had an open checkbook to recruit these guys. I was in Kansas City and our sponsor Tom Grant wanted to win. I worked for the man for three-and-a-half years and when the boss asks you to do something, you do it. My job was to make sure JaRon stayed out of trouble. That was my job until JaRon became a senior."Piggie said Grant, a Kansas City businessman, informed the NCAA of Grant's pre-existing relationship with JaRon Rush prior to his enrolling at UCLA. Rush chose UCLA over Kansas and his eligibility was never questioned prior to his appearance before the grand jury.
"If there was a problem with it, then there would have been no reason for him to have played last year," Piggie said. "The NCAA investigated that stuff. It was never Myron Piggie's money, it was Tom Grant's. He was paying me to watch these kids."
The investigation into the eligibility of the Rush brothers could take weeks or even the rest of the season while the NCAA, the Pac-10, the Big 12 and the respective schools conduct interviews.
Stanley was a former representative of Young, who is not in the NBA this season. Piggie said fired Stanley on Young's behalf. He said he isn't surprised to hear his name associated with Rush.
"Whatever happened to JaRon, he got tricked," Piggie said. "Jerome was hungry, looking for young ballplayers. JaRon won't turn anything down. If you can help him, he's for you. Kareem doesn't look for handouts. If anything happened with Kareem, it was done without him knowing."
UCLA officials have not made JaRon Rush available to the media since his suspension.
UCLA athletic director Peter T. Dalis said Friday that Rush's status will be determined when the school completes its investigation, and added there was no timetable for the conclusion of the investigation.
"We recently were made aware of a possible violation by JaRon and are currently gathering information regarding the situation," Dalis said in a statement issued by the school. "We feel it is in the best interest of the university to withhold him from games while we investigate the matter. When we have concluded our investigation, we will determine our next step."
Missouri athletic director Michael Alden said the school will determine its next step following completion of the investigation.
Piggie admitted to tax problems and confirmed he talked to an IRS investigator last year. He said he hasn't heard from federal officials since the one meeting and didn't know why the grand jury was investigating him.
"I haven't been before the grand jury," Piggie said. "I have had no contact with the FBI. Everybody has problems with taxes. I don't have the money to pay them off right now."
Children's Mercy Hospital of Kansas City dropped its sponsorship of the team in the spring of 1998. Piggie said he stopped coaching the AAU team a few months later after two shooting deaths in his family.
According to published reports, Piggie has had legal battles dating back to 1987, when he was charged with assault, and conspiracy to distribute cocaine in Kansas City. He served time in a halfway house and was placed on five years' probation.
"I had run-ins with the law," Piggie said. "Those were mistakes I made. These athletes are making bad decisions on their own. Whatever happened in the last two and a half years to these guys, Myron Piggie had no involvement with it at all."
A number of high-profile college players took turns playing with Piggie's team during the summers of '96 and '97. But some of the stints were for a weekend tournament. Florida's Mike Miller and LaDarius Halton played on the team before their senior years in high school. Florida head coach Billy Donovan said he doesn't think either would be questioned about their relationship with Piggie and isn't concerned about any possible wrongdoing involving the two players. Donovan also said he never went through Piggie during the recruitment of either Miller or Halton.
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