Thursday, February 10, 2005

Sebastian Telfair says book claims are false

Sebastian Telfair was quoted as follows Wednesday night, regarding whether some unnamed booster at GT offered him $250,000:

"Georgia Tech did not recruit me and never spoke to me," Telfair said. "That's a false statement and I have no further comment."

So where's the gray area? Well, first, the book did not say it was GT that made the offer. It said it was some middle-aged white guy who claimed to represent GT. Second, the connection with Georgia Tech never came from Telfair's lips. It came from two "buddies" of his. The result is that the writer Ian O'Connor can stand by his claims and claim to be on a moral high ground.

Now the AJC has printed sort of a retraction, basically exonerating Hewitt and GT with the recent denial. And evidently GT is looking at trying to prove that Telfair never flew to ATL....... Brian Murphy over at the Macon Telegraph has also printed a nice story trying to clear the GT and Hewitt name.

Here's the earlier story about the book with the excerpt.

Well, Coach Hewitt is out on all media channels defending his honor and the honor of Georgia Tech. The AJC came out with a story strongly denying the truth to the story, trying to question the credibility and facts of the account....... In addition, the Associated Press has picked up on the story, which was printed in the USA Today.........

In addition, Coach Hewitt is out defending our honor on the local radio shows (both 790 and 680 in ATL)- listen here to archive (right-click & save-as to save to your harddrive). With that link you can download his head-to-head interview with the writer of the book. Hewitt went "head-to-head" on 790thezone with the author of the book John O'Connor.

The most interesting quotes from O'Connor were that he didn't know that Georgia Tech's name would end up in the book, and that he didn't even believe the story in the first place. In addition, it is clear he has no idea who the booster is or what game Telfair attended. In other words, yellow journalism at its best.

The re-cap:

O'Connor (paraphrased):
The book was never intended to be an investigation into GT. It was following a kid around during the process of going pro out of high school after the Lebron situation. At one point, Sebastian told me that he was approached at a college basketball game by a middle-aged white man, who offered him big money, $250k, to attend that school. For the record, Sebastian would only agree to say that the man represented a Div I program in the east, and didn't want to go further than that. Someone close to ST told me that school was GT, and as my duty I called Paul Hewitt and Allison George for their comment. It was their belief that he never attended a game at GT and for a kid of his profile, they would have known it. I went back to Sebastian, and he still didn't want to comment, but his brother / best friend did confirm that they attended a GT game in ATL unofficially...... Now, I have always been a fan of Paul Hewitt. I think he carries himself with dignity and he certainly seems to run a clean program. In fact, during the Final Four run, I wrote a column about a speech he gave about playing basketball the right way, the Red Holtzman way....... So in the book, I am not suggesting that Coach Hewitt had any knowledge of wrongdoing or was connected to it in any way. It could have just been some bozo in the crowd........ But I think in the culture of the booster today - we just saw a guy convicted of paying $150,000 for having a D-Lineman attend his school - I don't think it's that hard of a story to believe that a booster out there somewhere might have done this.

As I told Ian last summer when we talked, there is no chance he was at a game. That's number 1. Number 2, I am glad you clarified, Ian, that Sebastian never said that. I am a little disappointed that you would take two guys that quote "know him", or are around him, and accept that GT was the school. I feel a bit better that the truth is that Sebastian never said this...... In some ways, Ian, I am a little disappointed in you. Some of the stuff I said to you that appeared in the book was off the record. I would never trivialize my assistant coaches job's by making a public comment that if Sebastian was at a game somebody would be fired. I would never trivialize their job like that. I would never fire someone because they didn't tell me something like that, and I thought I made that very clear when we spoke that that was a joke and it was off the record.

Coach, when we spoke you never said "off the record", and secondly, when someone reads that, I think it is clear that you are not to be taken literally. It seems obvious that it was said in jest, and I don't think anyone would take that literally.

To say that because something happened at Alabama somehow gives this story some credibility is wrong. I am disappointed, because now, no matter how benign, this is something I am going to have to answer on the recruiting trial over the next year, year and a half, and maybe the next 3-4 years. That just does a lot of damage to a college program. It's not fair at all, and maybe if I was a different person, I would go to greater lengths to prove that this is a completely ficticious story.

O'CONNOR (on ST's friends)
Listen, parts of the story told to me that did not appear in the book that were not verified should not appear in the book. The idea that I was somehow wreckless or took this lightly - I have never done that in my life. At the time, I don't see any reason why Danny Turner and Bubba Barker, who were two of the closest people to ST, would lie about that. They had no agenda to do that and I want to make this crystal clear. It probably doesn't make Coach Hewitt feel any better, but there is never any suggestion that HE had any knowledge or had anything to do with some guy in the stands. All I can say is that I did my due diligence

Here's the thing. This morning, I pick up the AJC, and there is a picture of ST and underneath it says "Telfair claims GT offered $250,000", yet now you make another comment (that it was not Telfair who said it). I tell you, I have really glossed this over and I neglected to even mention it to my AD because I thought it was an absolute non-story. I have a question - who did he meet when he came down here? Do you have any names? Because he didn't meet any of my assistant coaches. The only coach he had any interaction with was Willie Reese - he never met any of the other coaches (goes through the list). For a recruit of that caliber to come to one of our games and not meet any of our staff or any of our players - that's absolutely impossible.

Again, it was not reported as any official or schedule visit.

HEWITT (cutting him off)
You said he "liked the people down there". That was one of your comments. Well, who are those people he liked? Was it the boogyman? I mean, who did he meet?

Again, that was according to his best friend, now living with him in Portland. I don't think he was speaking about someone specifically a GT personel.

Ian, you need to understand. I don't have an issue with you. I've already done my background on you. I've talked to the people I know in New York. I lived there and worked there most of my life, and everybody says you are a great reporter and credible. Before I came on, I talked to a very close friend of yours. My point is, the way college sports works - that AJC story will be copied across every college sports office in the country. And believe me, they are going to go after recruits, they are going to drop that in front of them, and say - hey, they might be getting investigated.......... While people tell me you are credible, what you have done is irresponsible. Now you have created this big mess that I have to clean up in homes across the country when I go to recruit players.

I never set out to create any sort of mess for you. I never realized the words "Georgia Tech" would appear in the book when I started the process . If you have an issue with the AJC maybe you should take it up with them.

O'CONNOR (when asked if he believed the story was true)
No, I don't even believe what I reported, and I don't want to take it any further than that. I reported that this is what happened though..... I mean ST, after spending a year with him, is not a kid who is a liar. He is a straighforward kid and he had no interest in getting anyone in trouble. He was just telling these stories about things that happened to him over the course of 2-3 years in the national spotlight. He told me everything except the name of the school the man claimed to represent for the record. He had no interest in getting anyone in trouble. As a reporter, when somebody tells you that this happened - ok, Sebastian tells me that a man approached him at a college basketball game and said these words - it's your duty then to try as best you can to find out - who did this man claim to represent. Ok, and that's what I did. There are a lot of other elements of the story I looked into, and what I was able to publish, I published. Two of his closest guys say he went to ATL to see a GT game, not on an official visit.

Not true.

Coach Hewitt, are you telling me that there is no chance that he could have ended up in, say, Philips Arena, a 20,000 seat arena, just to attend a game with a friend, and you not be aware of it.

Like I said to the reporter from the AJC who called me, I think we play one game in the Philips Arena every year. Our games only have about 7000-8000 people, not 20,000. I cannot tell you if he was at a game at Philips, but if he was, there's a pretty good chance with 7000-8000 people around, I would know it.

O'CONNOR: (on the wrong media reports)
I am not saying Coach Hewitt should be happy with the media reports. I haven't seen them since I am up in New York. I should fax Coach Hewitt the article I wrote about him during the Final Four to prove that I have no agenda with him.

That column will be long forgotten and this column with live for about three years......... It's real disappointing that the kid didn't say it, but now everybody's going to associate the story with the kid claiming it. You can say - well Sebastian never said it. You can make that very clear, but the bottom line is that nobody is going to remember "Danny Whatever" and what's the other guy's name - Bubba? Nobody is going to know who Danny and Bubba are. They are just going to associate Sebastian Telfair with Georgia Tech and illegal recruiting. That's all they are going to come up with. And Ian, I am disappointed. You should know better than that. Nobody is going to know who Danny and Bubba are.

Listen, I know that, but if you look at the printed word, I made it crystal clear. I don't know what to tell you about what the AJC wrote.

No, I am talking about the normal reader. They are not going to remember that Sebastian never claimed it was Georgia Tech and that it was these two other guys. Nobody will remember them. They will remember Sebastian Telfair, Georgia Tech and probably my name and improper payments. That's just dead wrong. That's like saying because Jason Blair was plagerizing that other columnists were doing probably doing it too. That's just dead wrong. To try link up this thing in Alabama or Memphis with this story and saying that it gives it some plausibility, all the way around, it's just really disappointing.

In this "free" society, certain freedoms should come with a price. Like making unfounded, unsubstantiated allegations. Of course, are we the pot calling the kettle black? Witness our rants about Ohio State and their ALLEGED troubles, particularly after losing Maurice Wells in a recruiting battle in football. Do they deserve anything less? Has anything been proven in that case? Someone commented on that Ohio State story that "where there's smoke there's fire". Well, that was wrong. In this case, it's just a wet blanket. Now we know how it feels.