David Salinas, a prominent AAU coach and investment manager, died of an apparent suicide on Sunday. In the days since, his extensive ties to college basketball have been impossible to ignore. Will the NCAA pay attention? Plus: Great teams, Mike Leach, and more Alex Morgan. Talking Points is a series that highlights some of the best stories in sports (and elsewhere). Read the archives here.
For a solid 25 years now, AAU basketball has been a cesspool for corruption and deceit and conflicts of interest. Even as the NCAA's taken notice, the problems have gotten worse, not better. Earlier this week, I wrote that "People generally think of AAU hoops as either shameful or hilarious, but it's definitely both." There's no better example than the latest scandal.
First, the tragedy. David Salinas, the manager of the prominent Houston Select AAU team and an investment manager, died from an apparent suicide this weekend. Salinas was 60 years old, and in recent months found himself at the center of an SEC (Securities Exchange... not Mike Slive's league) investigation into an alleged Ponzi scheme that cost his investors millions. The twist? Many of those investors were major college basketball coaches, all of whom lost millions of dollars investing with Salinas.
As for the comedy... The idea of an "AAU coach/investment manager" should probably raise some eyebrows right off the bat, shouldn't it? Would you ever trust your health to a "agent/dentist?" So let's get this out of the way up front--if college coaches say they invested with this guy purely for their economic interests, they're either incredibly stupid, or lying.
This note, courtesy of The Daily, hints at the latter:
"He talked about all these coaches that he had investing with him," the former University of Houston coach told The Daily last night. "I told him because he was an AAU guy, I couldn’t possibly get involved in that. I said, ‘I think that’s kind of a rules violation, or could be.’ "
Penders, now retired, told The Daily that Salinas solicited him for a $100,000 investment in their first meeting and "made a strong, strong implication" that it would help Houston gain access to prospects that were part of the Houston Select, an AAU program that Salinas founded.
Which isn't to say college coaches aren't also stupid, here. After all, it's one thing to partner with an investment manager who can help you in more ways than one, but it's a whole different story to put down millions. The exact total of all the investments is unclear, but Sports Illustrated reports the number's almost $8 million. Billy Gillispie put down $2.3 million, for God's sake. What high school basketball on earth is worth even a fraction of that? Are college coaches really this desperate? If not, are they really that naive? Again, this was an AAU coach/investment manager.
It's still early, but it looks pretty ugly. Instead of Willie Lyles, the scout who conned Oregon for tens of thousands, this is a guy who worked over coaches for millions. Instead of a player like Cam Newton (maybe) getting paid $180,000, this was (maybe) a third party using players to con coaches for 10 times that amount. Next to other NCAA scandals, the questions simmering beneath the surface here seem pretty important.
- It shouldn't be hard to see how powerful Salinas' influence was. How many recruits from Houston Select went to those coaches' schools?
- Do college coaches just have millions of dollars sitting around, fully liquidated?
- If not, who put up the cash for all this?
- If college coaches will invest with an investment manager who was never officially registered with the SEC, what other black market deals decide high school kids' futures every year?
But the best of all... As Bomani Jones asked on his podcast today, if even grown men like Billy Gillispie are getting taken advantage of by con men on the AAU circuit, how does anyone expect 16 and 17 year-old high school players to fare any better?
It's the sort of question that should prompt a long, hard look at a broken system that's been married to farce for years, but also appears pretty well-acquainted with full-on fraud. The sort of question that makes you grateful that an organization exists to intervene, because there are real, incredibly nuanced evils infecting amateur sports. Will the NCAA do something?
Fortunately for agent/dentists everywhere, the answer is "probably not." Via ESPN:
The NCAA has no intention at present of opening a formal probe into whether a number of high-profile basketball and football coaches and other NCAA officials were defrauded by Houston financial planner and AAU basketball operator David Salinas, a source familiar with the matter told ESPN.com.
Glad to see that hundred million dollar tax exemption is still being put to good use!
With that, more Talking Points...
Spencer Hall Plus Mike Leach Equals A Good Time. Our own Spencer Hall went down to Key West last week and spent a day and night fishing with none other than Mike Leach. Knowing Spencer, and having read obsessively Mike Leach, they're basically kindred spirits.
Me: "Free Bird" should be our national anthem.
Mike Leach: "This is indisputable."
So come for the interplay between the two, but then stay for stories like this:
"Why do you call the slot receiver in your playbook 'The Elf'?"
Leach laughs. "Because that was Wes Welker, and Welker looks like an Elf? One time it's late, like eleven o'clock or midnight on Sunday, and we're having an offensive staff meeting when Welker comes in and he's wearing an elf costume. Tights, the whole thing. He jumps up on the table and does a little jig. He's smiling, and then he jumps down, and just before he leaves he clicks his heels and then runs out of the door."
If HBO could ever work with a college football team, a Mike Leach-helmed program would produce the strangest Hard Knocks of all time. It wouldn't even be close. This is indisputable.
Also, since there is literally nothing going on in the world of sports right now, you should check out Spencer and Holly's stream from SEC Media Day, an annual event that offers a menagerie of irrational optimism and deeply rooted cynicism, with a steady current of SEC-flavored insanity underpinning everything.
The Saddest Person Ever Begs For Re-Tweet. Hey, it's a slow sports day.
The History Of Rap (Again). One day Justin Timberlake will stop being awesome. Not today.
The Greatest Team You Ever Covered. During a down period on the sports calender, the best reading always comes from the past. In that spirit, Sports Illustrated dispatched a collection of its top writers to remember the best team they ever covered. Here, along Phil Taylor, you can look back at the '96 Bulls.
Every visit with them provided at least one "did-I-really-just-see-that?" moment, sometimes on the court, and sometimes off. On the court: I remember seeing Jordan, the league's leading scorer and MVP, palming the ball in his right hand as Washington Bullets guard Brent Price gamely, but futilely tried to harass him. Price was crouched low, working furiously on defense, but every time he slapped at the ball, Jordan simply held it farther away, a Globetrotter toying with a General. At one point he faked a pass over Price's head, pulling it back just as the Bullets' guard turned to see where the ball had gone. It was the perfect symbol of how the Bulls treated the rest of the league as their plaything that season.
Or, with Peter King, the '86 Giants.
But where Belichick really might have learned something from Parcells was in the psych lab. Before the Giants met the Rams in a 1989 playoff game, Parcells was determined to play mind games with Taylor, who always had trouble with Rams left tackle Irv Pankey. He left a round-trip plane ticket to New Orleans on Taylor's stool. Taylor asked Parcells what it was. "A ticket to New Orleans,'' he said. "You fly down there, give the return ticket to [linebacker] Pat Swilling and tell him to fly back for the game. No one will know. You both wear 56. He's the only guy who can handle Pankey. You can't.''
A motivated Taylor had two sacks that week, beating Pankey.
Or with Jack McCallum, the '92 Dream Team.
Barkley was out and about most nights, collecting crowds of anywhere from 10 to 50, stopping at this bar, this tavern, always chattering, always spreading around mucho dolares and a joyous diplomacy that helped ease the pain of the beatings. Even when Barkley caused them. He famously threw an elbow at a skinny Angolan in the first U.S. game in Barcelona but succeeded mainly in turning Hector Coimbra into the best-known basketball player in the world for a couple of days.
If you're looking to lose yourself for an afternoon, you could do much worse than this series.
Because Jayson Werth's Absolutely Terrible. This bar promotion was great:
During the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, you can order PBR tallboys, Buds and High Lifes for whatever Werth’s batting average is at the time. For example, if the promotion started right now, at the time of publication, Werth’s .211 batting average would mean $2.11 brewskies.
Want another dime knocked off the price? Then root for Werth to sink deeper into his slump this week.
Finally, Two Great Commercials. First, because I've managed to write about Alex Morgan every day this week, we may as well keep the streak alive. Here's a failed promo for ESPN yesterday.
Second, here's Steve Nash being Steve Nash. Because Steve Nash is always the best.