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The #1 Tire Dealer In East Tennessee. House of Dossett & Harris & Cliffey Boy!
Posted: Wednesday, July 26th, 2006, 9:04 AM • Permalink
SEC Media days open today. We're abstaining from the proceedings. Boy, I wish I was there for Vandy, Kentucky and Coach Shula. Can it get any better? I think I'll hang in Blount County.
Harold Reynolds can't get enough of the ladies. New York Newsday is reporting that the guy had a pattern of sexual harrasment. Reynolds is acting like this was a one time thing. He just got married and admits to hugging on a young intern. What's up with that? When you see a guy like this with his image caught up in something like that you have to wonder what's next. A sex scandal and grade fixing scandal at a local high school. Here's what I'm hearing on that........Well I'm not at liberty to discuss here, but rest assured it is pretty illuminating as to where we are as a culture. Sad stuff all the way around. A disgruntled teacher. An administrator who was acting like a kid and a young man caught in the middle of it all. Needless to say, you will hear more about this. Especially with Adam Longo on the scene.

Speaking of a world gone mad: Here are the excerpts I meant to post yesterday from the three part series that recently ran in the Boston Globe. I've distilled this down from an hours worth of reading to a couple of minutes. UT and Bruce Pearl pop up in the story. Check it out!

Wading in cesspool
Officials for amateur teams admit doling out cash to players
By Bob Hohler, Globe Staff | July 24, 2006

Second in a three-part series on the sneaker industry's influence on amateur basketball in New England.

Playaz president Thomas J. ``TJ" Gassnola has paid for Sanders to travel not only from New England to Fayetteville, as Gassnola has done for the entire team, but also to fly after the tournament from Arkansas to Orlando to vacation with his brothers and sisters at Disney World. Gassnola then will pay for Sanders to fly home from Disney World.

Never mind that NCAA rules bar amateur teams such as the Playaz from paying for anything but ``actual and necessary travel, room and board, and apparel and equipment for competition and practice."

Gassnola, who has a lengthy criminal record and rich history of financial delinquency, says he also will slip his star player $100 to spend during his Disney vacation.

``The kid has no money, so I'm helping him out," Gassnola says. ``You want to throw me in jail for that? Go ahead."

Since Sanders will not be subject to NCAA rules until he enrolls in college -- and since no other agency closely regulates such activity -- the chances of anyone facing sanctions for Gassnola's special gift to Sanders are remote.

``It's all loosely regulated, at best," says Robert Kanaby, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations. ``We may just have to hope for some sense of voluntary compliance by the individuals who are making [the system] so lucrative and rewarding."

`Michael' motivation
If the companies or their representatives play fast and loose in the process, they rarely answer for it, as team officials such as Gassnola operate in a subculture in which pioneers like Vaccaro and Nike executive George Raveling set the standards, for better or worse.

Raveling, who followed Vaccaro as head of Nike's grassroots program, has acknowledged giving $100 to Amare Stoudemire's mother, Carrie, in 2000 while she was jailed on theft charges (Nike was wooing Amare before he turned pro). Stoudemire has since signed endorsement deals with Nike worth an estimated $33 million.

Vaccaro acknowledges that as an Adidas executive in the 1990s he bought street clothes for NBA player Lamar Odom when Odom played for an Adidas-funded youth team (Odom later signed with Nike). Vaccaro also says in an interview near his multimillion-dollar home in Calabasas, Calif., that he has provided players money for expenses not directly related to basketball, which critics decry as improper preferential treatment and the NCAA could consider a violation of its rules on amateurism.

``I would do that, absolutely," Vaccaro says of regularly giving players money for food and other expenses unrelated to basketball. ``There's no hard-line rule against it and it would be asinine to put one in because you couldn't monitor it."

Vaccaro acknowledges the sneaker companies participate in a system that exploits amateur youths for financial gain.

``It's a cesspool," he said, ``but everybody's involved in it: the sneaker companies, the NBA, the colleges, and the high schools."

Vaccaro, Gassnola and others justify the practice in part by citing the profits that sneaker companies, colleges, professional teams, television networks, agents and others make on teenagers, many of whom are poor.

``I live in a beautiful place and I'm pretty damn successful," Vaccaro says. "For a lot of these kids, it's a rough life."

Guiding light
Gassnola also helps some of his players choose colleges, as he did last year with former Lynn Tech star Antonio Anderson. With several top Division 1 teams pursuing him, Anderson selected Memphis, whose coach, John Calipari, Gassnola considers a close friend.

``I'd take a bullet for the guy," Gassnola says.

Calipari's assistant, Derek Kellogg, has been Gassnola's best friend since they attended Cathedral High School together in Springfield.

``I told Antonio, `You need to go to a place where you're comfortable, with people I know, because I can't call [North Carolina coach] Roy Williams, but I can call Cal,' " Gassnola says. Calipari and Kellogg did not respond to interview requests.

Overseeing operation
Since NCAA rules bar individuals who have been charged with a felony from coaching in tournaments it certifies, Gassnola has not coached the Playaz since he formed them in 2004 (a jury found him not guilty in 2997 of felony assault and battery and unarmed burglary). He has left the coaching first to Mike Jarvis II, now the head team manager at Duke, and since then to Shawn Bloom, who played at Salem State after starring at Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, Mass.

Adidas is pleased with Gassnola because the Playaz are wearing its brand in a national showcase, where more than 175 colleges and 40 recruiting services are represented, with television cameras recording much of the action. Gassnola's goodwill ebbs, however, when the Playaz fail to overcome a lackluster start in their third game of the tournament and suffer a 1-point loss to a team from Memphis.

``That's it," he says, fuming, to Bloom. ``Take away their cellphones, their iPods, everything. I'm kicking [butt]."

Despite the sullen interlude, Gassnola gets plenty of attention from college recruiters, who recognize the influence he wields. When he first walks into the Boys and Girls Club, he exchanges a hug and handshake with Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who quickly hands his cellphone to Gassnola.
One of Pearl's assistants is curious about Kiwan Smith, a 6-8 star Gassnola brought to the tournament the previous year. Gassnola had pushed the 17-and-under age limit with Smith, who is 21 and was barred from another tournament last year because of his age. (Tournaments often permit limited age exceptions, which is how the BABC's 15-and-under team recently won AAU national, regional, and state championships with four players who are 16.)

As for Smith, questions also arose about his character: He pleaded guilty in 2004 in Schenectady (N.Y.) County to a Class D felony of third-degree criminal possession of stolen property (an SUV) and was sentenced to five years probation. But the more pressing matter seems to be that Smith, who attends Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, has yet to meet NCAA academic eligibility requirements, diminishing Tennessee's interest.

Still, one coach after another, including Kansas State's Bob Huggins, makes a point of schmoozing with Gassnola. With dozens of major college prospects participating, organizers charge the coaches $250 each for team rosters (178 colleges are registered). And even though the NCAA bars the coaches from speaking with players -- coaches may only observe the players but are allowed to speak with organizers like Gassnola -- Huggins has turned out with many of his contemporaries, including Pearl, Williams, Calipari, Kentucky's Tubby Smith, and Michigan State's Tom Izzo.

In the past, Gassnola has helped at least one college recruiter break the rule barring communication with players. The Record of Bergen County, N.J., reported in 2002 that Gassnola, then an associate of the Playaz Basketball Club of Paterson, N.J., handed his cellphone to Demetris Nichols, of Dorchester, whom Gassnola had enlisted with the Playaz, so Nichols could speak with a Syracuse recruiter who was standing in the same gym during a tournament.

When a Record reporter asked Gassnola whether the NCAA would ever be able to stop such prohibited communication, he replied, ``They can't do a [expletive] thing about it."

Traveling show
In Fayetteville, the Reebok-sponsored tournament has drawn 156 teams from coast to coast, despite Nike advising its teams to boycott the event because of its rival's sponsorship. Several Nike-sponsored teams, including the Illinois Warriors, who win the tournament, have ignored the company's ban, a measure of the event's significance on the recruiting calendar. An additional 83 teams that sought to pay the $450 entry fee were wait-listed.

Nearly every American-bred college and NBA star in recent years has played for a company-sponsored team, and organizers such as Gassnola and Papile have come to wield enormous influence with young players, helping them land lucrative scholarships to private secondary schools, fielding inquiries from college coaches, and advising them on their college choices.

In turn, players who make it big both by turning pro and reaping lucrative sneaker endorsement deals sometimes reward their summer coaches, though Papile said none of his alumni have given back to his program. Gassnola said he receives a combined $20,000 a year from three NBA players whom he declined to identify (none of his alumni has reached the NBA).

Indeed, a number of NBA stars, including Tracy McGrady, Tim Thomas, and Tyson Chandler, have designated portions of their multimillion-dollar sneaker contracts to their company-sponsored coaches or handlers.

Criminal history
Gassnola, however, has become a pariah among many youth coaches for his history of breaking laws, rules, and promises. The AAU, a major force in youth basketball, has suspended him since 2000 for bouncing an estimated $2,500 in checks for tournament fees.

Gassnola said he has ``made a ton of mistakes in my life." He attributed many of the lapses to a ``dysfunctional" upbringing and said, ``I absolutely robbed Peter to pay Paul to make this [basketball] program work." But he said he has turned his life around.

Gassnola has been convicted three times of larceny over $250 or receiving stolen property, among other charges, and has been ordered by judges in at least 11 civil cases to make good on more than $45,000 in bad debt.

Gassnola's criminal record also includes convictions for receiving stolen property and uttering a false check in 1998, larceny over $250 in 2000, and larceny over $250 in 2001 (the larceny convictions involved nearly $2,200 he stole from two women). He received probation or suspended jail sentences in each case and was ordered to pay a total of $3,091 in restitution.

Meanwhile, the list of plaintiffs who have received civil judgments against Gassnola for bad debts include a former basketball associate, a college in Springfield that rented him a gym, and a Hadley company that installed audio equipment in his SUV.

Gassnola, whom the Globe witnessed driving teenage players in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Arkansas while his license was revoked, also has amassed a voluminous record of traffic violations such as speeding, operating with a suspended license, and operating an unregistered vehicle. (None of the violations involves alcohol or drugs.) He has been classified five times as a habitual traffic offender, with his latest four-year revocation ending May 3.

``He has continued to drive in blatant violation of the law," Amie O'Hearn, a spokeswoman for the Registry of Motor Vehicles, said before Gassnola regained his license last month.

Registry officials said they did all they could to sanction Gassnola while he continued driving. The rest, they said, was up to police and the courts.

Gassnola has heard critics voice the most derogatory assertions about him, he said, none more incendiary than that he has paid athletes to play for him and has directed players to colleges in return for cash. He said he has done neither.
``You can do whatever you want [because] there are no rules," he said. But while he insisted he would never entice a player or his parents with money, Gassnola acknowledged delivering small amounts of cash to a number of players who have joined his program. He made clear the money was for things unrelated to basketball competition -- such as food and leisure travel -- and thus a possible violation of NCAA rules on amateurism. He said his only motive is compassion for his players.

``Do I wire a kid $40 so he can get something to eat? You're damn right I do," he said. ``I'm not leaving a kid on the side of the road who's got nothing at home."

In one recruiting ploy, Gassnola told Coombs-McDaniel's father, Pernell McDaniel, he would provide the elder McDaniel with Adidas footwear if his 16-year-old son joined the Playaz.

``He said, `What size sneaker do you wear? I'm going to take care of you,' " said McDaniel, who declined the offer.

Gassnola, who acknowledged making the offer to McDaniel, described the goods he receives from Adidas as a valuable resource.

``When a guy like me has product behind him, that makes a difference," Gassnola said. ``Kids say, `That's what T-Mac [Tracy McGrady] wears.' If I had no product behind me, this wouldn't be as easy."

Are you kidding?
Shoe companies set their sights on players as young as 12
By Bob Hohler, Globe Staff | July 25, 2006

Third in a three-part series on the sneaker industry's influence on amateur basketball in New England.

You've never heard of Joe Sharkey, a 14-year-old who just finished eighth grade at Brimmer and May, a small private day school in Chestnut Hill. But Adidas has.

Sharkey was 12 and ranked by a national scouting service among the top 20 sixth-grade players in the country when Adidas gave him his first free pair of basketball shoes and apparel. He was 13 and rated the best player from New England at the company's invitation-only Jr. Phenom Camp when he received his second free pair of Adidas shoes and gear. And when he accepted his invitation this month to the Adidas Phenom 150 Camp for players entering ninth and 10th grade, he collected more free merchandise.

The competition has become so fierce -- Nike signed LeBron James to a $90 million contract before he received his high school diploma -- that Hoop Scoop, a national scouting service, rates fifth-grade players and the sneaker companies are scrambling after prepubescent prospects.

``The whole thing has gotten out of control, and the shoe companies are driving the bus," said Hoop Scoop's Clark Francis.

As the young Sharkey sits before a bowl of chips and dip in the kitchen of his Norwood home, the notion of him one day becoming the face of a blockbuster marketing campaign for a multinational corporation may seem unfathomable.

Not to Adidas.

``He's one of our golden-child kids," said Joe Keller, who two years ago opened a new front in the sneaker wars by launching the invitation-only Adidas Jr. Phenom Camp for middle schoolers. "He should definitely be a Division 1 basketball player, and he has his head screwed on correctly."

``In a word, it's obscene," said Bruce Svare, a child psychologist and executive director of the National Institute for Sports Reform. ``I understand that they're trying to move billions of dollars worth of sports apparel, but they're doing it by coddling these young kids into a sense of entitlement that could hurt the kids and work against the companies."

Low-grade fever
The sneaker giants forge ahead nonetheless. Sonny Vaccaro, Reebok's senior director of grassroots basketball, set the trend as an Adidas executive in 2003 when he invited four eighth-graders to his ABCD Camp in Teaneck, N.J., for the nation's elite high school players. The same year, Vaccaro dipped lower into the talent pool by creating Camp Next for children who had completed eighth or ninth grade (Reebok now sponsors the program).

``We're going to find them, expose them, and get them used to the grind at an earlier age," Vaccaro said. ``I believe in that theory."

As a result, Vaccaro wasted no time last year establishing ties to Renardo Sidney, then a 6-foot-9-inch eighth-grader in Mississippi widely considered the nation's top prospect in the Class of 2009. Vaccaro provided Sidney an all-expenses-paid trip to the ABCD camp and arranged for the sneaker company to sponsor Sidney's summer team.

Vaccaro also spoke last year with Cully Payne, then a 14-year-old eighth-grader in Chicago, about committing to a college team before he reached high school. Three weeks after Payne completed the eighth grade -- and not long after his conversation with Vaccaro -- the boy verbally accepted a non-binding basketball scholarship offer from DePaul, a rarity for a child so young.

Vaccaro, who pays freelance scouts to help him target the nation's best young players, also took Juwan Moody, an 11-year-old phenom from Detroit, to lunch two years ago at a Johnny Rocket's restaurant near Vaccaro's home in Calabasas, Calif.

``When I met him, he was 5-2, and it was hard explaining to him that at some point he will have to grow a little bit," Vaccaro said. ``But I've maintained a friendship with him and his dad. I haven't seen him play, but he's supposed to really be a phenom."

In the next breath, however, Vaccaro shared a secret of the sneaker wars.

``The word `phenom' is nothing more than a selling tool," he said. ``It's a trick."

Francis, the scouting analyst, has seen the competition between sneaker companies intensify as he travels the country to rate players at youth camps and tournaments. Nike last month signaled its commitment to competing with Adidas and Reebok for middle schoolers by launching a national tournament for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders as part of its Memorial Day Classic in Nashville.

Francis defended his rankings, to a degree.

``Quite honestly, I think our lists of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders are really good," he said. "But I think our list of fifth-graders is a joke."


Disturbing trend?
The best of the young phenoms are celebrated in teen-oriented magazines like Slam, which is thick with ads and features touting sneaker company apparel, camps, and tournaments.

Child prodigies also are tracked by websites such as New York-based, whose stated mission is to provide ``cutting-edge stories about the hottest grammar school players" as young as second-graders.

Fixing the problem may require the sneaker companies, perhaps with support from the NBA, to cooperatively fund a network of regional youth development programs that addresses the needs of both recreational players and elite college prospects, said Brian McCormick, author of ``Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development."

McCormick said his plan is aimed in part at curbing the profit-driven competition between the sneaker companies and its harmful effect on young players. `It may not be the perfect solution," he said, ``but at least it will get people talking about the problem."

``You see people drooling over 10-year-old kids and you wonder, at what point is he no longer just a kid playing the game because it's fun and at what point does it tarnish him," said Carl Parker, who coaches a regional travel team from Maine and recently became the head coach at Lee Academy in Maine. ``All that hype and exposure at such a young age, I'm not sure how good that is for the kids."

It hurt Demetrius Walker, who was 12 when he was featured on the front page of the Los Angeles Times and 14 when he was trumpeted last year on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Walker, who will be a 6-4 sophomore at Fontana (Calif.) High School, got swept up in his hype and slipped, at least temporarily, from can't-miss to overrated.

Vaccaro blamed the media and Walker's handlers.

``That was the greatest miscarriage of justice I've ever seen, proclaiming the kid to be the greatest when he was in sixth grade," he said. ``Demetrius is pretty good, but he's never going to be LeBron."
Keller, who coached Walker in his Adidas-sponsored summer program, acknowledged the boy ``was hurt to some degree" by the booing he received when his game deteriorated after the hype.

``Anytime someone tells us we're the greatest in the world, we tend not to work as hard, and that happened to Demetrius," Keller said. ``But this has brought him back to reality and he's back in the gym five or six hours a day."

Gotta Go
Small Mike
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