Sunday, October 23, 2005

I'm Back....... Sort of

Ok, 3 days without posting is probably a new record for me. Sorry for the delay. Life has it's way of twisting and turning in a fashion that adjusts priorities. I won't be quite as profilic in my posting in the coming weeks, but hopefully I can make up the quantity with outstanding quality. Of course you'll have to be the judge of that.

Let me start off on a rant. Monday at about 10:00 am, you will learn where Thaddeus Young is going to college to play hoops. He is a top 5 national recruit and considered the most versatile player in the nation, an athletic, slashing, scrapping, sharp shooting 6'8" wing play. His list has been narrowed down to GT, UK and Ark. His "hometown" Memphis Tigers were eliminated in the #4 slot and things have gotten WAY ugly in the city of blues. Fans on the Memphis internet and even local radio stations (Keith Easterwood) are absolutely throwing Young and his family to the wolves. First, there was all the stuff about Thad's father wanting him to play for a black head coach, which the family has said is ridiculous. Now a local Memphis radio station has come out and said that Thaddeus Young is basically out to the highest bidder. Here are some of the accusations:

- that "Team Thad" (his entourage) held private workouts for colleges and that during the Arkansas workout, there was a meeting with a member of the Walton family (Wal-mart folks), a tyson rep, and Thad Young.
- NCAA investigations are underway (rumors)
- "Team Thad" purposely tried to convince other high level recruits NOT to commit to Memphis
- George Raveling, on behalf of Nike and Georgia Tech, was offering money to "Team Thad" (family members) to get him to GT, since of course, we use Nike
- Arkansas was able to get more money on the table through their link with Adidas and therefore they are leading in the "bidding war" for Thad's services. Common "internet" belief is that Arkansas is the favorite.

So who is "Team Thad"? I found this editorial:

Calkins: Why do those least in need get most help?
By Geoff Calkins
May 15, 2005

For the last two years, Darryl Fletcher has worked as manager for the Mitchell High School basketball team. He does the laundry, fills up water bottles, the usual stuff.

Fletcher is a sweet kid, as sweet as they come. He doesn't have a lot of money. He takes special needs classes. Mitchell coach Jerry Johnson says he's "a step or two behind the other kids."

So people look out for him, starting with the principal at Mitchell, John Ware. Ware asked Johnson to find something for Fletcher to do. That's how he became manager of the basketball team. Johnson gives him basketball shoes, and warmup outfits, and sometimes money for a haircut.

"Everyone knows and loves him at Mitchell," Johnson said. "You might say we look out for him." I tell you this story because it is pure and simple and clean. The people who help Darryl Fletcher expect nothing in return. Call them Team Darryl. I like Team Darryl.

Team Thaddeus? I'm less sure.

Thaddeus Young is the best high school player in Memphis, certainly one of the 10 best rising seniors in the land. He's tall (6-8) and gifted (North Carolina coach Roy Williams has practically taken up residence) and the subject of a remarkable series of stories in today's Commercial Appeal.

The stories are about Team Thaddeus, the half a dozen people who are shaping Young's life this summer and beyond. One thing you'll notice about the stories: There's not much about the kid in there. There's a story on his father, and a lawyer, and the twins who manage his AAU team. There's a story on the big hitters from adidas who see Young as a human billboard.

But Thaddeus himself? At 16, he's become almost a bit player in his own tale. Team Thaddeus. What a concept. Once, that was the kid and his mom.

Lula Hall bore her son on June 21, 1988. She never married the father but raised an urban miracle. Young isn't just a great basketball player, he's an inspiration. He has a 4.3 grade point average. He's in the National Honor Society. "As good as he is at basketball," said Johnson, "he's a better human being."

Johnson once asked Hall what she did that was so different, how she succeeded where so many had failed. "She said she didn't use Similac," he said. "She used regular pasteurized milk." Whatever, it worked until Young hit ninth grade, until he showed signs of becoming a star. Then Team Thaddeus grew beyond the mom. "She doesn't know anything about basketball," Johnson said. "She only comes to see her son."

Only comes to see her son. How wonderfully innocent is that? The rest come because they see his gifts, see that he's going to hit it big. To help him? Or to help themselves? You decide. But if someone wanted to make a movie about the seamy world of high school basketball, they could come to Memphis and find all the stock characters they need.

The biological father, suddenly playing a larger role in his son's life.

According to Johnson, the Mitchell coach, Felton Young didn't come to his son's games before the ninth grade. Now the elder Young is not only the kid's biggest supporter, he's also his AAU coach. Felton Young hadn't coached in 15 years. But when adidas agreed to underwrite a new team called Pump'N'Run, he got the coaching bug again. Young insists he isn't paid for the job, but that would be a departure from the norm. It's a perfectly legal way for shoe companies to funnel money to the parents of a star.

The questionable characters from the hometown.

Jerry and Terry Durham are twins who manage the new Pump'N'Run team. Between them, they were arrested 19 times from 1989-2002 on charges ranging from reckless driving to attempted murder to possession of drugs with intent to distribute. They've never been convicted of a felony. That much is true. But why are these two even involved?

The fancy lawyer from New Orleans.

Ken Carter is Felton Young's cousin, and a highly respected lawyer from New Orleans. He is deeply involved in all things Thaddeus. Carter says he has no interest in being Young's agent. He's made plenty of money on his own. But is the power appealing? The glamour, the juice? How could it not be? When Roy Williams left an AAU tournament the other day, he waved to Carter on the way out.

The shoe company representatives, wooing the next star.

David and Dana Pump are the adidas executives who decided to underwrite the Pump'N'Run team. They want Young to wear their shoes and figured this was the best way. Before this summer, Young played for a Nike team that wasn't coached by his father. Now there's a new team, built around the Youngs, one as the star, one as the coach.

Oh, and David and Dana Pump are also twins. Just like the Durhams. Because, really, what's a circus without two pairs? "They're twins, we're twins," said David Pump. "I'm just trying to help the twins." So the Pumps are trying to help the Durhams, who are trying to help the father, who is trying to help the son, who must feel overwhelmed at times.

Team Thaddeus is supposed to help protect the kid. But how is a kid supposed to know if the people there to protect him are the ones he should be protected from? Henry Baskin is the athletic director at Mitchell High School. He's been known to go to Internet message boards and post alarming messages about drug dealers getting too close to Young. Baskin said Young is now in good hands. He's a firm believer in the sincerity of Felton Young.

So is Johnson, the Mitchell coach, who said he called Thaddeus's father three years ago and asked him to get more involved. "People bash him," he said, "but he is still the boy's dad." Johnson concedes that some of Thaddeus's family on his mother's side resent Felton Young's prominent role. "They do," he said. "But they don't understand that he got involved because I called him to help."

As for the Durham brothers and the Pump brothers, what of them? "We're just trying to help kids," said Jerry Durham.

Of course they are. But why this kid? Why the one kid in Memphis who might be least in need of help? There are second-graders who need help. Infants who need help. Musicians and math students and high school basketball managers who need help. Of course, Darryl Fletcher isn't going to make anyone rich. Thaddeus Young just might. Team Darryl. I like Team Darryl. I like the uncomplicated selflessness in a complicated time.

To reach Geoff Calkins, call him at 529-2364 or send an e-mail. You can hear his radio show, "Sportstime with George Lapides and Geoff Calkins," from 8 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday on WHBQ-AM (560).

I read another interesting story in the USA Today on a plane this week. It is the story of Arkansas State's leading scorer Jerry Nichols. It's the story of a kid who hurt his knee twice in high school wearing Adidas shoes. The past two seasons, Ark.St. used Nike, but this season they have switched to Adidas. Jerry says he doesn't want to wear Adidas because of blowing out his knee in their shoes in the past. The result? Nichols was told he would no longer practice or PLAY with the team until he decides otherwise, so he missed at least 3 practices. In the past day, Adidas has decided this is a PR nightmare and they have said they will not force him to wear Adidas shoes, but will try to offer him shoes from their collection that will work for him.

Hey Adidas, Jerry Nichols is not under contract with Adidas. How much money did he receive? None - that's right. Are you telling me shoe companies have the right to dictate these things? Who is writing these contracts? Who is signing over their first-born for the all-mighty dollar? Who is selling out these kids? Everyone. That's right - everyone.

I feel for Thaddeus Young. By all accounts, this is an upstanding, smart, talented young man. He would be a top-10 NBA draft pick. He sees himself as a one-and-done guy and why not (with that talent)? What do you do when the people looking out for your well-being might need looking after? What do you do when fans only see you for what you can contribute to their team? When others see dollar signs? When shoe companies influence your life as a teenager? What do you do when fans degrade your family and rip you because you because you eliminated their school?

On Monday, a bunch of fans are going to be happy, a bunch are going to be upset, a bunch of companies will start building Thad-branding plans and hopefully Thaddeus Young will continue his life as a high school senior. A high school senior. Say it again with me - a high school senior. Best of luck Thaddeus Young. You'll do fine wherever. Like most other selfish fans, we'd love to have you as a YellowJacket. Just do what's in YOUR heart. Not a shoe-company, not your AAU coach, you advisors, your dad, etc. You have to live with it - they don't. Oh, and have some fun too.