Wiedmer: Stallings is best story in basketball

Wiedmer: Stallings is best story in basketball

August 13th, 2009 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

We can probably all agree this morning that Louisville coach Rick Pitino has nailed down the top spot for this summer's biggest college basketball story.

As one web site devoted to sports humor noted Wednesday: "Pitino cheated on his wife, had sex in a fancy restaurant and gave the other woman $3,000 (for an abortion). And that's HIS side of the story."

In truth, for anyone who has ever been a spouse or a parent, there is no humor in this. There is only sadness, disappointment, even disgust over the 56-year-old Pitino's sordid behavior.

(Feel free at this point to break for a long shower as you consider what these admissions must be doing to his wife and five children.)

But just because the Louisville Louse is the biggest college hoops story of the summer doesn't make him the best. That honor should go to the anti-Pitino -- Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings.

Bald and basic, Stallings has long been the picture most perfect of substance over style, of character over charisma, of decency over deceit.

And that has rarely been more evident than this summer, beginning a few weeks ago at a summer basketball tournament in Memphis, when Stallings declined to pay an outrageous $295 for a packet containing the names and phone numbers of high school players in attendance. The packet doubled as an admission fee for college coaches, a practice that has become alarmingly commonplace on the summer prep hoops circuit.

Stallings later told the New York Times, "I'm not protesting or insisting that my moral compass is better than anyone else. But mine won't allow me to do something like that that is that blatantly wrong."

Here's what's more blatantly wrong: Stallings is almost on an island on this issue when it comes to BCS conference coaches.

No other head coach in a BCS league was quoted in the Times story. Fear of alienating those close to a potential recruit was the reason given by the newspaper for the coaches' silence.

"That's precisely why things are the way they are," Stallings continued in the July 27 piece. "The people who could have influence ... choose not to use it because it doesn't help them. They don't want anything unsettling their smooth little boat ride."

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach John Shulman agrees completely with Stallings.

"It's unbelievable," Shulman said on Wednesday. "Let's say myself and Coach (Brent) Jolly go to one of these camps. They want me to pay $200 for the book and another $100 to get Brent through the door. I think the NCAA realizes something has to be done, they just don't know where to start."

Regarding Stallings' decision to speak out, Shulman added, "That's pretty gutsy, because if you're a Tennessee, Kentucky or Kansas, those (summer camp) guys can cost you players. If you wear the wrong (shoe) logo you can lose players. I just want to know what happened to recruiting a kid, his parents, his grandparents and the high school coach. What happened to that?"

Yet Stallings' stance on summer ball isn't the only reason to celebrate him today. After promising his 14 returning players -- including Australian pivot A.J. Ogilvy, a likely first-round NBA draft pick next spring -- that he'd take them on an Australian tour this month, Stallings was told over the spring that Vanderbilt would no longer pay for the trip in these tough economic times.

The coach immediately asked if he could pay for it. To clear NCAA hurdles, Vandy could simply take it out of his salary. The school agreed. Stallings' wife Lisa agreed.

So the coach is $100,000 poorer this week as the Commodores enjoy a trip Down Under.

Joked Shulman, "I guess Kevin could pretty much pay for the trip with all the money he saved on those summer camp packets."

Said Stallings to ESPN.com earlier this week, "This wasn't a difficult decision to make. The players are having a terrific time."

Which also makes it a terrific time to ask the following question:

If your son were searching for a major college coach to guide him and shape him over the next four years, if not the rest of his life, would you rather have him play for Pitino or Stallings?