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Malone, Lavin Combine for Very Wrong Number

November 05, 2000|T.J. SIMERS

There are some serious NCAA recruiting questions here at the very least, and when UCLA basketball Coach Steve Lavin and Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone get together, as you might expect, a comedy of errors.

Now Lavin, who stands to lose the most in this yarn that speaks at the very least so loudly to poor judgment, chose Saturday night not to comment.

But here's the story as it has unfolded so far.

Lavin went to the World Series as a guest of Malone, and while that's a twosome sure to draw giggles in this city, the pair sat together in Shea Stadium discussing UCLA basketball recruiting.

Lavin expressed disappointment at losing Mater Dei center Jamal Sampson to California, and said he had hoped for more help from Pat Barrett, an influential area youth coach, who at one time wore an NCAA championship ring--a gift from former Bruin coach Jim Harrick that was a part of NCAA sanctions a few years ago.

Malone told Lavin he went way back with Barrett, and offered to call him and give him a hard time. Lavin took a cell phone, and supposedly dialed Barrett's number.

Malone got an answering machine.

According to a tipster, Malone allegedly left the following message, which the tipster said has now been heard by several other people: "Why is that big Sampson going to Cal? How come you didn't steer him to UCLA? We needed him and you blew it for us."

Instead of leaving the message on Barrett's answering machine, however, Malone had actually left it on Sampson's, because Lavin had dialed the kid's telephone by mistake.

"I didn't hear the message," Sampson said when reached at home Saturday night. "But my mom did. She got that message on the answering machine."

After Sampson's mother came to the telephone Saturday night, she said, "I don't care to comment on that [incident]."

Reached in Florida at the general managers' meetings, Malone listened to the story as I relayed it, said he had to call Derrick Hall, the Dodgers' spin control expert, and hung up.

Hall called a few minutes later to say that Malone had made that telephone call from Shea Stadium while with Lavin, and Malone said he had left a message something like, "How could you let that kid get out of the city?"

Hall said that Malone characterized it as a joke with someone whom he had known for years, "a friendly phone call." He said Malone told him he had been under the impression that Sampson was on his way to Cal or St. Louis.

Told that the call had gone to Sampson by mistake, Malone told Hall that he knew that now, but had been told it had been forwarded to Barrett.

Here's the problem for UCLA: Lavin had made it no secret to everyone that Sampson was the Bruins' most-coveted recruit, and although Sampson announced he was committing to Cal, the national letter-of-intent day to sign with a school is not until this Wednesday. Sampson can still commit to UCLA without penalty.

Was Lavin putting last-minute World Series pressure from the Dodgers' general manager on Sampson by going through Barrett? Is it an NCAA violation to use someone like Malone, who has a high profile in the L.A. community, to help in the recruiting of a player? If Malone is such a good friend of Lavin's, does that make him a "representative" of UCLA, something the NCAA frowns on big-time?

Did Lavin really give Sampson's number by mistake to Malone?

Or, was it simply a case of bad judgment on Lavin's part, poor taste on Malone's, and would you expect anything different from these two any time they get together?


SEATTLE SHORTSTOP Alex Rodriguez told reporters this weekend he would like to play for the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves or Dodgers.

I think it's a pretty well-known fact around baseball that everyone would like the chance to play for Jim Tracy once in his career.


THE LAKERS HAVE been working behind closed doors on Shaquille O'Neal's free-throw shooting technique. Reportedly, assistant coach Bill Bertka has been doing some high-level undisclosed things with O'Neal.

Coach Phil Jackson said it's all very hush-hush. "We don't make that part public," he said, as if it's any big deal that Bertka is standing on a ladder with a blow horn in hand shouting into Shaq's ears to bend his knees.

I think there's a book here in the making. And while I'm sure Bertka was counting on making millions from "I'm the genius who taught Shaq how to make free throws," based on early results, we're talking best seller: "I'm the guy who made even a worse free-throw shooter out of Shaq."

O'Neal was three for 14 against Vancouver and is 17 for 48 after three games.


I DON'T WANT to sound like I'm going to the whip here, but something's not right when seven Southern California-based jockeys were riding in the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs, but not one of them was Laffit Pincay, the winningest jockey in racing history.


ST. MARTIN'S PRESS reportedly will pay Bob Knight $1.2 million for his memoirs. I wouldn't be surprised if his memories as he remembers them become one of the biggest-selling fiction books of all time.


TODAY'S LAST WORD comes in an e-mail from Jim:

"All kidding aside, is there some kind of logical explanation why USC president Steven Sample hasn't called you?"

I suppose if he has taken vows to become a Trappist monk.


T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail

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