The 10 Most Controversial Players in College Basketball History

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2012

The 10 Most Controversial Players in College Basketball History

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    You think conference realignment is a hot-button topic?

    Not even close.

    College basketball has seen scandals as amusing as cash falling out of FedEx boxes and junior college transfers getting admitted to school on the strength of a mere welding certificate.

    Some scandals have been disturbing, centered around offenses like test copying and point shaving.

    Other incidents crossed the line to horrifying and tragic, resulting in loss of life.

    Compared to the storms that encompassed these 10 players, schools hopping leagues to chase a little paper is mere child's play.

10. Chris Mills

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    The case was cheekily referred to as the Bills 'n' Mills affair. Soon after a package came apart at an Emery shipping warehouse in Los Angeles and spilled 20 $50 bills, no one affiliated with the University of Kentucky was in a joking mood.

    The package was addressed to Claude Mills, father of star recruit Chris Mills. All involved parties, from the Mills family to Kentucky assistant coach Dwane Casey, denied the envelope contained money when it left Lexington and arrived at the family's residence, and the younger Mills went on to sign with UK.

    After an All-SEC freshman season in which he averaged 14 points and eight rebounds per game, Mills was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, despite never being directly mentioned in the governing body's investigation of Kentucky's infractions.

    Mills headed to Arizona, where he became an All-American and a first-round NBA draft pick.

    Casey had to go to Japan to resurrect his career, but he has recovered well and now leads the NBA's Toronto Raptors.

    Kentucky served a postseason ban for the first two years of Rick Pitino's tenure, and then it didn't miss another NCAA tournament for nearly two decades.

    Almost everyone involved with the dark late-'80s nadir of Kentucky basketball recovered pretty well.

    Well, except for Eric Manuel. More on him later.

9. Boban Savovic

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    Slobodan "Boban" Savovic left Ohio State ranked fifth on its all-time three-point shooting list.

    He also left Ohio State basketball engulfed in a firestorm of controversy.

    A married couple who were known Ohio State boosters housed Savovic for the first few months he was in Columbus before the university made it known that they could not have an athlete under their roof.

    Dan and Kim Roslovic then paid their former nanny $1,000 per month to house and care for Savovic. When the Roslovics later reneged on the agreement, the nanny, Kathleen Salyers, sued for damages.

    The lawsuit alleged that Ohio State assistant coach Paul Biancardi, now a recruiting analyst for ESPN, brokered the arrangement.

    The same lawsuit also contained the revelation that Buckeyes head coach Jim O'Brien had given another foreign recruit, Aleksandar Radojevic, more than $6,000 from his own pocket. Radojevic never played for Ohio State, and after word of the payment became public O'Brien never coached there again. He was fired immediately after admitting the payment to athletic director Andy Geiger.

    Salyers also claimed she wrote school papers for Savovic and made sure professors doctored his grades when needed.

    Oh, and did we mention that the suit also claimed that a sexual relationship between Savovic and Kim Roslovic contributed to the breakup of the Roslovics' marriage?

    The lawsuit was dismissed, but Ohio State didn't get off as lightly as the Roslovics. OSU was placed on three years of probation and ordered to vacate every game in which Savovic played, including the Buckeyes' run to the 1999 Final Four. Savovic went on to play pro ball in Serbia and France.

8. Jamil Terrell

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    Jamil Terrell (left, in white) averaged 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over the course of his career at St. Bonaventure. Not the kind of guy who could get a decent column-sized article about him, let alone be notorious 10 years later, right?

    That's true, except for the fact that his career lasted all of 25 games in 2002-03 and crippled the program in Olean for most of the ensuing decade.

    The 6'8" center arrived from Coastal Georgia Community College with a welding certificate. Not only could he tear down your driveway rim with a thunderous dunk, he could also build you a sturdy steel replacement if you gave him a hood and a blowtorch.

    The problem is that a welding certificate is not an associate's degree, which is what a JUCO transfer is expected to bring to his four-year school. Athletic director Gothard Lane knew he was ineligible, but he was overruled by President Robert Wickenheiser, whose son, Kort, was an assistant basketball coach.

    During the spring semester, Wickenheiser even asked the vice president of academic affairs to change some deadlines to allow Terrell to withdraw from a Spanish class he was failing, an attempt to safeguard the eligibility of a player who wasn't eligible in the first place.

    When the school's Board of Trustees asked the NCAA for clarification, Terrell was immediately declared ineligible, and the Bonnies forfeited any wins in which he appeared and anyone connected with the affair was drummed out of the school.

    Terrell ended up playing in Slovenia and New Zealand, coach Jan van Breda Kolff's next head job came five years later in the reborn American Basketball Association and St. Bonaventure won a total of 32 games in the next five seasons.

    The saddest postscript, however, was reserved for Board of Trustees chairman Bill Swan, who hanged himself in November 2003.

7. Deon Thomas

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    Unlike Jamil Terrell, Deon Thomas was a player whose production was nearly worth all the scandal that surrounded his recruitment to the University of Illinois.

    A 6'9" specimen, Thomas was the center of a vicious recruiting war that became a personal grudge match between Iowa assistant coach Bruce Pearl and Illinois assistant Jimmy Collins.

    Pearl claimed that Thomas had confided to him that Collins had offered $80,000 and a Chevy Blazer in exchange for Thomas's signature on a letter of intent to play in Champaign. Pearl then made audio recordings of conversations with Thomas that seemed to substantiate his claims and sent a lengthy memo to the NCAA recommending that Illinois be severely punished.

    Mike Slive, then Illinois' attorney and now the commissioner of the SEC, recommended that Illinois self-impose sanctions to save it from the full wrath of the NCAA, but the school refused. Illinois had enough doubt about Pearl's evidence that it felt justified in taking on the NCAA.

    While Pearl's allegations were never conclusively proven, the NCAA still tarred Illinois with a "lack of institutional control" charge, primarily for other, smaller, self-reported violations. The Illini suffered through two years' probation, a postseason ban in 1991 and a hit to the school's reputation that may have cost it any chance to land top recruits like Juwan Howard and Cuonzo Martin.

    Thomas still signed with Illinois and left the school four years later as its all-time scoring leader.

    For his snitching, Pearl was largely ostracized when it came to getting head coaching jobs, forced to toil at Division II Southern Indiana for nine years. When Wisconsin-Milwaukee finally took a chance on him, he rewarded the opportunity by leading the Panthers to the 2005 Sweet 16, where they lost to...Illinois.

    Collins had a bit of a wait for a head coaching job himself, finally getting hired at Illinois-Chicago in 1996. He and Pearl were Horizon League rivals for four seasons, playing some of the most physical games the league has ever seen and not once engaging in the traditional postgame handshake.

    As for Thomas's relationship with Pearl, Thomas may have said it best when, on the eve of Illinois' tournament meeting with Milwaukee, he told the Chicago Tribune (reported here by the Tampa Bay Times) that Pearl was "evil" and that "it's hard to forgive a snake."

6. Chris Webber

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    Never mind the timeout that was not Chris Webber's to call in the 1993 NCAA championship game. The real firestorm hit the University of Michigan years after Webber departed for a lengthy and productive NBA career.

    Along with fellow ex-Wolverines Maurice Taylor, Louis Bullock and the late Robert "Tractor" Traylor, Webber was found to have received large sums of money from noted Michigan booster Ed Martin. The totals are reportedly in the vicinity of $616,000 for those four players alone.

    Payments often began well before the players were committed to Michigan. Martin's gifts to Webber began in 1988, when he was a freshman in high school.

    Martin's involvement with the Michigan program began in the 1980's, during the tenure of coach Bill Frieder. When Frieder left, Martin provided gifts to new coach Steve Fisher and his family. Martin's tight bond with Fisher led to the coach allowing Martin into the program's inner circle, accompanying Fisher on recruiting visits to young players Martin had befriended, including Traylor.

    When Webber and the Fab Five led Michigan to the 1992 Final Four, Fisher made two rooms in the team hotel available to Martin. One of those rooms was given to Chris Webber's father.

    Long after the violations occurred, federal indictments were handed down. Webber, for his part, was indicted on five charges, including obstruction of justice and lying to a grand jury. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of criminal contempt and was fined $100,000 in addition to 330 hours of community service.

    Webber, Taylor, Traylor and Bullock have been whitewashed from the school's record books, in addition to Michigan vacating the 1992-93 season and the entire span from 1995 to 1999. Those vacations included four NCAA tournament trips, including that ill-fated runner-up finish, a Big Ten tournament title and the 1997 NIT championship.

    The program was also ordered to disassociate itself from Webber until 2013.

    There is one piece of good news for Webber.

    In the eyes of the NCAA, that brain fart of a timeout never happened.

5. Derrick Rose

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    If at first one does not succeed, one may try and try again. However, one must be prepared to explain his success after repeated failures.

    Chicago high school basketball star Derrick Rose had failed his ACT three times in his hometown. A passing score on the SAT was recorded under his name, Detroit.

    In addition, Rose and two teammates at Simeon High School were found to have had grades altered just before their transcripts were sent out to their universities of choice, then changed back shortly thereafter.

    Rose ended up at the University of Memphis just long enough to fall one Mario Chalmers miracle shot short of the national championship, then he was off to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Rose averaged nearly 21 points and six assists per game during the Tigers' run to the final.

    Just after Rose left for the draft, the NCAA announced that it was investigating Rose's SAT score, charges of grade tampering and reports that Rose's brother Reggie had been allowed to travel with the team for free, an impermissible extra benefit.

    By the time the NCAA was done with Memphis, the 2007-08 season was vacated, a feeling with which former Tigers coach John Calipari is quite familiar. The university's only other punishment was three years' probation.

    If Rose's SAT score had been red-flagged sooner, he would have lost millions, since it was his transcendent tournament performance that catapulted him to the top of the draft. Had it been questioned before he even enrolled at Memphis, he could have been forced to go overseas to kill time before declaring for the draft, instead of doing it in college.

    The one-and-done rule and academic fraud going hand-in-hand. Raise yours if you're shocked.

4. John "Hot Rod" Williams

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    Point shaving is a scandal nearly as old as college basketball itself. While many of the major cases, including CCNY in the 1950s and Boston College in the 1970s, were centered in the Northeast and abetted by New York crime families, the 1980s were a different animal.

    Guys were missing shots to make some cash all the way down in New Orleans.

    Star forward John "Hot Rod" Williams was the prime attraction at Tulane as a dominant player for all four of his seasons. Williams averaged 16 points and seven rebounds for his college career, winning the Metro Conference player of the year award as a junior.

    He ended his senior season, however, under arrest for manipulating point spreads in three of his final collegiate games. For his efforts, he had received the princely sum of $8,550, solid money to a college student but barely worth jeopardizing a sure million-dollar contract as a first-round NBA draft pick.

    Williams, four teammates and three other Tulane students were implicated in the scheme. Hot Rod narrowly escaped a conviction thanks to the prosecution failing to disclose all of its evidence to the defense.

    Between the point shaving and illegal payments from both boosters and Tulane's own head coach, the university actually pulled the plug on men's basketball for five years. The announcement came three days after Villanova's legendary upset of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA title game.

    The above picture is from Williams' long and relatively productive career in the NBA, a career that was long in doubt thanks to the fixing charges. Williams ended up playing 13 professional seasons, averaging 11 points and almost seven rebounds for his career.

    In an ironic twist, the man who nearly lost his career and freedom over eight grand was, for a time, the second-highest-paid athlete in all of American team sports. He was the first NBA player to make $5 million in a season, doing so at a time when Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, et al. were at the peak of their powers.

3. Eric Manuel

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    Eric Manuel was the Derrick Rose of the 1980s.

    Well, except for the magical NCAA tournament run, the top-draft-pick status, the MVP award, the endorsement windfalls, etc. Like Rose, Manuel only played one season of major college basketball, but this was far from his own choice.

    Also like Rose, Manuel had his standardized test scores called into question. After multiple ACT failures in his hometown of Macon, Georgia, Manuel scored a passing 23 when he took the test at Lexington (Ky.) Lafayette High School.

    Manuel played his freshman season, making the SEC All-Freshman team. Before the start of his sophomore year, however, the NCAA took a look at his test score as part of a larger probe into the Kentucky program.

    The investigation found that Manuel and the student sitting closest to him had 211 matching answers to 219 questions. Manuel's defense claimed that his answer sheet was photocopied because one of the test proctors knew someone who wanted his autograph. The other student was also reported to be boasting around his high school that he had helped Manuel get into Kentucky, adding another layer to an already puzzling case.

    While the probe continued, Manuel voluntarily sat out the 1988-89 season to prevent jeopardizing the UK program if he was found ineligible.

    He was found ineligible, and the program was hit with three years of probation for his and several other violations. The kicker was that Manuel was accused not only of cheating but also lying to the university and the NCAA.

    Manuel was banned from competing for any NCAA member institution. He ended up at NAIA power Oklahoma City University, but had to win a fight to be allowed to play there, too. The NAIA bought every inch of the NCAA report and tried to close its doors to Manuel, but a district court judge finally allowed him to play.

    Manuel led OCU to a pair of NAIA national titles before playing a few seasons overseas.

2. Sherman White

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    The Sporting News named Long Island University's Sherman White its national player of the year on February 19, 1951. The next day White was arrested in connection with a point-shaving scandal that rocked no fewer than seven universities, including City College of New York and the University of Kentucky.

    White was averaging nearly 28 points per game, leading the nation, and was only 77 points shy of the NCAA single-season scoring record when he was arrested.

    During the previous season, White was puzzled when his point guard, Eddie Gard, began "giving me some bad passes." Gard and two other teammates were already shaving points for gambler and jeweler Salvatore Sollazzo, the mastermind behind similar schemes at CCNY, Manhattan and NYU.

    White joined the scheme at the end of that season and was a full participant during his senior season, 1950-51. When he was arrested, he handed back an envelope containing nearly all the money he had made, approximately $5,500.

    White and CCNY's Ed Roman were the only two players implicated in the scandal to be sentenced to jail time. White was sent to Rikers Island for nine months. All the involved players were banned from the NBA, including ex-Kentucky player Alex Groza, who was already becoming a star with the Indianapolis Olympians, the only player-owned team in NBA history.

    The New York Knicks had planned to draft White with a territorial pick, which would have added him to an already-strong roster that included Harry Gallatin, Dick McGuire and Sweetwater Clifton. That team went on to lose a pair of NBA Finals to the Minneapolis Lakers.

    White lost out on a contract believed to be in the area of $13,000, a heady amount in a time when the NBA's top star, George Mikan, was making $22,000. His only post-college basketball was played in the semipro Eastern League.

1. Carlton Dotson

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    There were a lot of tentacles to the scandal that enveloped Baylor basketball in the summer of 2003.

    They included head coach Dave Bliss paying the tuition for two players to elude the scholarship limit, then painting one of the two players as a drug dealer to explain how said tuition was paid. The fact that the slandered player had been murdered by a teammate two months prior made it all the more sickening.

    Forward Carlton Dotson had begun practicing with firearms that summer, along with teammate Patrick Dennehy. During one of these practice sessions at a farm north of Waco, Dotson and Dennehy got into an argument, which ended when Dotson shot and killed Dennehy.

    Dennehy was considered a missing person for the next month. His Chevy Tahoe was found at a mall in Virginia with its license plates removed.

    More than a month after the killing, Dotson told a cousin what had happened and was taken into custody at his home in Maryland. Four days after Dotson's arrest, a body was found in advanced decomposition at a gravel pit near Waco. The body, later identified as Dennehy's, was found decapitated.

    Dotson was sent to a state mental hospital for evaluation, based on accounts of others, including his ex-wife, who claimed Dotson heard voices. Reports from FBI agents said that Dotson had told them he feared others were out to harm him because he was Jesus. After a regimen of medication, doctors deemed him competent to stand trial.

    In June 2005, only days before that trial was to begin, Dotson abruptly pleaded guilty to Dennehy's murder. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

    And yes, Patrick Dennehy's memory was smeared by his head coach perpetuating a story that Dennehy dealt drugs to pay his way through school. Classy.


    For more from Scott on college basketball nationwide, check out The Back Iron (now on CollegeBasketballTalk's #NBCMustFollow College Hoop Directory).