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Thompson sees recruiting troubles

Former coach decries artificial environment, suggests NBA should step in when it can.

July 22, 2008|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- For many, the frenzy of four high-profile basketball tournaments operating simultaneously here this week is a highlight of the summer.

Former Georgetown coach John Thompson has another view. He says the scene is more evidence that the game is troubled.

"So much is built on promises that aren't being kept, people are bribing others -- it's not regulated, and it's not regulate-able," Thompson, 67, said Monday as he watched the USA Olympic basketball team practice at Valley High.

Thompson, who coached the 1988 Olympic team and Georgetown to the 1984 NCAA championship, said the NBA's so-called "one-and-done" rule that allows players to leave college at age 19 or one year removed from high school graduation is warping the sport by allowing advisors and agents to convince young players their value is artificially high.

He worries that a sensational individual performance at any of the tournaments starting here today, with Nike, Adidas and Reebok sponsoring the action, might only further inflate someone's stock or ego.

"The selling of fool's gold is such an issue," Thompson said. "It's created a monster."

Thompson is pitching a longshot idea that couldn't be implemented until the NBA's current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2010-11 season:

"Every kid coming out of high school who wants to try out for an NBA team can," Thompson said. "If the NBA wants the kid, OK. If the NBA says the kid's not ready, then the kid comes to college being coachable -- he knows he needs to be there -- and you throw out the importance of these agents saying all these things they're saying to the kid. We already have heard the NBA's opinion."

Thompson, who retired in 1999, complained that today's coaches are far removed from the days when recruiting was done most often in a circle that included the player, his family and his high school coach.

"You don't know who . . . to talk to anymore," Thompson said. "You're hearing the kid saying he's a McDonald's All-American. McDonald's isn't evaluating anyone, these kids couldn't even get a free cheeseburger from McDonald's after playing in the game. Rather than worry about that, just work on your game.

"It just seems to me that too many people now are uncontrollable."

He added, "We've created an atmosphere where the kid thinks he's entitled to this. . . . He sees the NCAA making billions, the coach taking extra money from shoe contracts, but I don't excuse the kid.

"Athletics mend fences and build bridges that allow us to cross to an area we couldn't get to before, but the kid needs to participate in the system without violating it, and he knows when he is."

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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