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His Dream Shattered, Cotton Is Forced to Rethink Future

UCLA: Feeling 'lost and confused' after learning his SAT test has been invalidated, his plans are unclear. The school is expected to appeal.


A day after learning he is academically ineligible to attend UCLA, star-crossed basketball recruit Schea Cotton said he felt "lost and confused," adding that he was not sure if college basketball would be in his future.

Cotton, a would-be incoming freshman, was told by his parents Saturday that his June SAT test has been invalidated by the NCAA. On Sunday, he tried to focus on where to go from there, although admittedly without much success.

"I'm kind of speechless or spellbound, or whatever happens to people when everything they dream about is taken away from them," said Cotton, whose scholarship has been revoked by the NCAA pending an appeal.

"I just don't know where to go or what to do. I just feel like people are out there trying to hurt me for no reason. When something like this happens, what else can you think?"

What happened to Cotton isn't completely clear yet.

According to Cotton's parents and UCLA sources, the NCAA Eligibility Clearinghouse invalidated Cotton's third SAT test result, in which he received a qualifying score of 900, because he incorrectly received "special circumstances" from the testing service. Cotton was given more than the allotted time to finish the exam and his questionnaires were printed in larger type for easier reading.

The NCAA ruled Friday that Cotton should not have received any special assistance because he does not have a recognized learning disability. The Cottons contend Schea should not be penalized because of an error by the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT. Calls to ETS, based in Princeton, N.J., and the NCAA offices in Overland Park, Kan., were not returned Sunday.

UCLA officials plan to pursue an appeal, and hope to begin the process today. However, Cotton wouldn't commit to that Sunday.

"Being at UCLA was something I've dreamed about, but the NCAA is telling me I can't be at UCLA," Cotton said. "It's just going to hurt me more if we [were to lose an appeal]. You just don't know how hard that would be.

"Besides, how can I even think about that right now? I don't know if I'm ever going to play college basketball. Maybe this is a sign or something."

But Cotton realizes he eventually will be forced to make some decisions. Even if Cotton actively supports an appeal, it is uncertain how long the process would take, or even if the matter would be resolved before or during the season.

Cotton, a 6-foot-5 swingman, said he has always hoped to play with his older brother, James, in the NBA. James will be a rookie this season with the Seattle SuperSonics.

The Continental Basketball Assn. is seeking younger players in an attempt to pattern itself after major league baseball's farm system. Cotton would seem like the type of player the CBA now covets.

"That's not for me," said Schea, who recently completed a freshman-orientation program at UCLA. "Nothing against the CBA, I'm sure that's cool and all, but I want to go to college and I want to be at UCLA. That's really all I've thought about for a long time."

Likewise, Cotton's parents, James and Gaynell, said they are unsure how to proceed. They have intimated about pursuing legal action against the NCAA, and one Southland basketball source close to the Cottons said they will consult with a prominent L.A. trial lawyer sometime this week.

"We just need time to be together as a family and try to make some sense of this whole thing," Gaynell Cotton said. "With everything that's happened, we don't know what's the right thing to do. We just want to keep our son's spirits up and support him because he needs us now more than ever."

This has been an especially difficult year for the Cottons.

Schea struggled to receive a qualifying score on the SAT, achieving it on his third and final attempt. He was the object of a summer-long NCAA investigation into the financing of the 1997 Ford Explorer he drives and his relationship with Nike consultant Pat Barrett, a family friend and Schea's former youth-league coach.

The spotlight is nothing new to Cotton, who has been among the Southland's most renowned and interviewed athletes during his high school career at Bellflower St. John Bosco and Santa Ana Mater Dei. Now, the spotlight is the last thing Cotton needs--or wants.

"People look at me and they think I've been handed everything in my life, but it's not like that," Cotton said. "I've worked hard and I've had a lot of obstacles to overcome.

"All I want to do is to go to school so I can get my education and help my family. Why won't the NCAA let me do that?"

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