COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jim Childers and Dale Brown first met at a coaching clinic, where they talked about how bad a won-loss record can get.
It was an innocent enough meeting between a high school coach and one from a college until each found out the other had just the thing he was looking for.
Months later, their relationship has become the latest soap opera of the sport. Childers has been promised a college assistant's job, and Brown has gotten an inside to one of the best and biggest high school prospects.
This looks like the year's eyebrow-raiser in college recruiting. Indeed, the NCAA already has been called in. Childers has become a marked man in his hometown and at his alma mater, South Carolina. Brown, the coach at Louisiana State, has had his smudged image further stained, if only on presumptive evidence.
The literal center of the story is 6-foot-11 Stanley Roberts, who on Sept. 29 said he would choose LSU over Georgia Tech and South Carolina, the latter less than 10 miles from Lower Richlands High School where Childers is going for a third state title and second with Roberts.
Roberts made his announcement even though he had not officially visited any of the schools. He also asked, at least initially, that be allowed to follow through on his visits despite already making his pick.
As futile as it may seem, South Carolina and Georgia Tech may agree because of Roberts' mother, whose signature would also be required on a letter of intent. She works as a custodian at South Carolina and would like her son to remain closer to home.
South Carolina was in the lead to recruit Roberts until one day last spring in Myrtle Beach, when Brown told a clinic audience that he once had a team that finished 1-20.
"Then he asked if anybody ever had a worse record," Childers recalled. "I reluctantly raised my hand. I once had a girls team that was 1-22. He said 'You're destined for greatness."'
A throwaway comment, no doubt, but the start of a beneficial relationship.
"At the time we met, Dale Brown didn't know I had a player," Childers said. "I had heard him talk, saw his teams play and saw interviews with him on TV. I thought I would like for Stanley to have a chance to see this kind of coaching style. You could tell just by listening to (Brown) that he has a lot more going for him than basketball. He cares about the person more than just their ability to put it through a hoop. I wanted Stanley to be introduced to that kind of style."
Childers' introduction led to a conversion; he now speaks with a profound reverence for Brown.
The case is nothing new in recruiting, however. High school coaches and their star players often have "chosen" the same college. It happens virtually every year. LSU's Brown on four previous occasions in the past 12 years hired the high school coach of a player he was recruiting. He got the player each time.
Kansas Coach Larry Brown gave the practice a new twist in 1983 when he hired Danny Manning's father Ed, then a truck driver in Greensboro, N.C.
The Childers-LSU situation brought another innovative wrinkle. Childers' hiring came a full season before it will become official. Childers will remain as Roberts' coach and confidant through the player's senior year in high school.
"I know it sounds a little fishy," Childers understated. "But unlike a lot of people say, it was not predicated on a package deal."
That statement would be more believable had Childers quit his current job and immediately joined LSU. Still, Childers deserves a bit of empathy. He has an outstanding record in six years at Lower Richlands. He desperately wants to move into college coaching and had been inquiring about jobs, including at South Carolina. He will be 36 soon and has a wife and two children, one of whom is handicapped. He has paid dues, done well and deserves an opportunity.
"I was at a crossroads in my career," he said. "The salary teachers make is just not in line with where my wife and I want to be. My daughter has certain needs and things I can't do on a teacher's salary ($26,000 last year).
"I think my talent is in coaching and I had to make this move soon. If I have to take a step back to leap forward, then I was willing to do it."
While claiming not to be naive, Childers said he is sure that he has been offered the LSU position for what he can do, not for whom he can bring along.
Dale Brown also insists he is hiring Childers for the coach's merits, not his influence.
Childers, meanwhile, took a lot of heat in the first few days after his situation became public. Callers and commentators on radio shows in the Columbia area were overwhelmingly critical. There was talk of trying to force Childers off the sidelines at Lower Richlands, and some hard feelings are sure to be rekindled once Childers and Roberts take the court this season.