Neither Michael Courtney nor Kevin Parks expected to be playing basketball for Santa Monica College this fall. Both were headed for four-year colleges on scholarships before they were detoured.
In the case of Courtney, the All-City player from Westchester High School, his failure to pass a college entrance examination was a big factor in keeping him out of a Pepperdine University uniform this fall. There were other reasons, still a matter of dispute, but more on that later.
The case of Parks, a good student and a Santa Monica College sophomore forward who played for strong teams at Crossroads School, is a different matter. He said he was ready to sign a letter of intent with Pomona Pitzer two years ago when SMC Coach John McMullen persuaded him that he would have a brighter basketball future if he played for the Corsairs.
Courtney is one of many athletes who have run afoul of the NCAA's stricter scholastic eligibility requirements for incoming athletes that took effect this fall.
Under the standards, adopted in 1982, a scholarship candidate must either score a combined 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or a 15 on the American College Test. The athlete must also have a 2.0 grade-point average (on a scale of 4) in a curriculum that includes three years of English, two years of mathematics, two of a social science and two of a natural or physical science.
In an interview at Santa Monica College, Courtney said he did not achieve a 700 SAT score. So he had several options under NCAA rules:
- Forfeit his Pepperdine scholarship and attend a junior college.
- Accept the scholarship but not practice or play with Pepperdine and forgo one year of eligibilty.
- Accept financial aid, if he qualified, instead of a scholarship and attend Pepperdine without playing or practicing the first year, retaining four years of eligibility.
But Courtney accused Pepperdine of giving his scholarship to Tom Lewis, who led USC in scoring as a freshman last season and enrolled at Pepperdine in early September.
Courtney said he thinks that Pepperdine "had to free up a scholarship" for Lewis. "It was either me or Tom Lewis, and they chose Lewis."
Pepperdine Coach Jim Harrick said that Courtney's accusations are "tremendously false statements" and that the reason why Courtney is not at Pepperdine is that he failed to submit his SAT score and his last-semester high school transcript to the school.
Harrick said that because Courtney did not submit the necessary paper work by the deadline he could not be admitted to Pepperdine. He added that Lewis enrolled at Pepperdine after Courtney failed to meet the deadline and that, in any case, the university had enough scholarships available for both players.
Courtney said he had given his SAT score and transcript to Paul Provost, a part-time assistant coach at Pepperdine. Harrick said that is "not true. It never happened."
"I thought I let them (Pepperdine) down by not getting my 700 (on his entrance test)," Courtney said. "They also let me down by taking my scholarship and making me feel like a fool."
Asked if he plans to transfer to Pepperdine after two years at SMC, Courtney replied, "No. Heck, no. I'm going to play here, get my (associates's) degree and play somewhere else."
Harrick had said earlier that he had not lost interest in Courtney as a player but that it was probably better for him to start at SMC. "When you think about him academically and losing a year (of eligibility) and his study skills, it's probably better for him to go to Santa Monica."
But when he was told that Courtney said he had no intention of going to Pepperdine after two years at SMC, Harrick said, "He'll survive, and he'll be a better man for it.
"He's upset. I'm upset. I wanted him. He's a good player. I make my living on City players."
Courtney said he was not much of a student in high school. "I really didn't apply myself." But at SMC, he said, "I'm going to push myself, get the best grades I can possibly get and have a chance to be recruited" by a four-year college.
He hopes to play professional basketball. Basketball, he added, "isn't my whole life, but it's a major part of it. If I can't make it in the pros, I'll use my graduation ticket to get a job."
Parks, on the other hand, said he had no academic difficulties at Crossroads and had a 3.8 grade-point average in his senior year. Unlike Courtney, whose basketball talents were coveted by several NCAA Division I colleges, Parks, a 6-7, 190-pounder who played center in high school, did not receive scholarship offers from Division I schools.
He said he did get offers from Division II and III schools and from NAIA colleges, including some for academic grants. He said he had narrowed his choices to Chapman College, Cal Lutheran and Pomona Pitzer and was ready to sign with Pitzer until he heard from McMullen.
"He (McMullen) and a lot of other people thought I had Division I potential. He said that, if that was what I wanted, I should go for it because it was up to me."