By 10:30 Tuesday night, UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard had been read excerpts of the Sports Illustrated story due out the next day, a story in which Sean Higgins of Fairfax High School accuses the Bruins of recruiting violations.
And when Hazzard talked with Claude Mills, who was quoted in the story and is the father of Fairfax junior standout Chris Mills, at 10:35 p.m., he was not a happy man.
"He (Hazzard) was very upset with what Sean said," Mills said moments after finishing the phone call with Hazzard. "He said (Higgins) doesn't know what he's doing. He said Sean is taking on some very powerful people."
Higgins' battle to be released from his letter of intent with UCLA has been going on for months, in Los Angeles and Southfield, Mich., where his father, Earle Higgins, lives, and at the offices of the Pacific 10 Conference and the NCAA. Only now, in the current issue of Sports Illustrated, did he choose to tell his side of the story.
He maintains in the story that he has wanted to go to Michigan all along and that he agreed to go to UCLA only because he was threatened by his stepfather, Clifford Benson-Bey. Higgins also says that Steven Antebi, a Century City stockbroker and UCLA alumnus, invited him to his Holmby Hills home, where Antebi offered him a place to live, summer work, a chance to increase whatever money he made at that work through investments, and a car "not long after I signed."
Antebi, agreeing that Higgins visited his home, has denied the other allegations.
There were rumors throughout the fall that Sean Higgins was undecided about which school he would choose, Michigan or UCLA. On Nov. 18, when Higgins signed with UCLA, he denied having left his house to call his father in Michigan. Only when told that his father had said they had talked did Sean confirm it.
The young Higgins subsequently denied that he had asked to be released from his UCLA letter, only to be contradicted again by his father. Sean had, in fact, asked out of the letter, Earl Higgins said. The mood around the UCLA athletic department the day the story came out was, despite Hazzard's comments to Claude Mills the previous night, one of relative unconcern. So far, it seems to be Higgins' word against Antebi's, several sources said.
Still, Earle Higgins remains confident that the findings of the NCAA and Pac-10 will invalidate the UCLA letter of intent.
"As confident as we can be," he said. "It was unfortunate Sean had to be put in a situation like this. He knew what he wanted to do (sign with Michigan) and he didn't get a chance to do it. I hope it all works out soon and then he can have the day he really wanted to have."
And what's that?
"Like originally," Earle said. "He always wanted to go to Michigan."
The Pac-10 will not discuss the progress of its investigation.
"We have a very standard and a very consistent comment, which is no comment," said David Price, the associate commissioner.
In the meantime, Fairfax, unbeaten in 21 games this season, rolls along as the No. 1 team in the state, according to Cal-Hi Sports, and No. 2 in the nation, according to USA Today. The Lions are the top-seeded team in the City 4-A playoffs starting today.
All is not going smoothly at Fairfax just now, though. The Lions had to go into overtime before beating Granada Hills Kennedy in the regular-season finale Wednesday. They are already without starting guard David Henderson, who was dropped because of poor grades, and have played the last 2 1/2 games without Mills, who had a strained knee. The Higgins investigation has become another distraction.
"We all understand what he's going through," said Mills, who will be back in the lineup for tonight's 7 p.m. game against L.A. Washington (10-10). "After all, Sean was the man two years ago, before I even came. He was last year and he's still the man."
Said senior forward J.D. Green, who has picked up much of the slack in the last three games by scoring 20, 40 and 31 points: "(Higgins) keeps most of it inside. He doesn't want anyone to suffer because of his problems. He's a strong person."