Basketball ties that bind
The coach of a top AAU team also runs a nonprofit foundation that mixes basketball and education -- but are the connections too friendly with some collegiate programs?
ark Adams just may be perfectly placed in Bloomington, Ind., where nearly everyone reveres basketball; where children grow up with ball-in-hand and will shoot at anything with a hole in it; where one of the nation's most respected AAU programs is based; and where the storied Indiana University Hoosiers are trying to recapture the glory years of college basketball domination.
Adams, a 54-year-old government worker, has had connections to all of it for years, as the father of a former IU basketball staff member, as a basketball coach for two decades, and as the current coach of the top team in that AAU program, Indiana Elite. Since 2003, he's even used his Bloomington-based nonprofit, African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education (A-HOPE) foundation to try to help fulfill the hoop dreams of young international players.
IU RECRUIT RECEIVES BENEFITS
Top 2012 Indiana University recruit Hanner Mosquera-Perea has had trips to his native Colombia paid for, been provided a cellphone, had his cellphone bill paid for him, and been given a used iPod and a laptop computer. Story »
TUG OF WAR OVER LIGGINS
An Indiana Elite founder is accused by multiple sources of having raised the possibility of adopting former Indiana Elite player DeAndre Liggins, without his mother's permission, to influence his college selection. Story »
WORRIES ABOUT DEPORTATION
By his emotional account, one A-HOPE player inexplicably fell through the cracks, left to fend for himself in a complicated foreign land, his calls for help to A-HOPE foundation leaders having gone unanswered. Story »
FINDING A BETTER LIFE IN AMERICA
The story of one African basketball player who came to America outside of the A-HOPE foundation, though he ended up under its guidance and played for Indiana Elite. Story »
PLAYER: IT'S ABOUT CONTROL, INFLUENCE
One player listed as an A-HOPE alumnus says when he didn't attend the college recommended for him by A-HOPE officials, his relationship with them immediately soured. Story »
He says he has put more than "six figures" of his own money into the foundation because he wanted to help teenagers escape difficult circumstances for the promise of a better life. He has brought them to America "to receive an outstanding education." He is so dedicated, he says, that when he retires next year, he will move to the south Sudan and open a school.
His connections and motives, he says, are clear and pure. But others in the high school and collegiate basketball communities keep asking questions: What about Adams' ties to Indiana University basketball and about how his son got a job under coach Tom Crean with no prior college coaching experience? What about whether Adams stops communicating with African basketball players if they don't follow his advice when selecting a college? What about Indiana Elite, which has evolved into a pipeline for top players to IU, punctuated by future verbal commitments? What is going on with his nonprofit's donations and expenditures? And what about gifts bestowed upon Colombian-born forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea, a top IU commitment for the Class of 2012?
Adams will have none of it, saying ESPN.com is asking the questions only at the suggestion of rival coaches and that it is "manufacturing" a story. He declined multiple interview requests before agreeing to answer a set of questions in email, but he ultimately told ESPN.com not to contact him again.
"Some of these student athletes come from war-torn countries, one or two were living in cars or airports hoping to escape their impoverished and underdeveloped countries," Adams writes. "Others came from loving families willing to let them go in order to seek an education and fulfill their dreams of playing basketball beyond the club level. From the questions that you have asked some of the people that you have contacted, (and I have heard from most if not all of them) you aren't interested in a student athlete from across the world graduating from a Big Ten school with honors. Or a Cameroon student that can speak 10 different languages and graduate from a Pac 10 school in three years and going back his last year of eligibility to work on a master degree. These young men have the strength and character that I have never seen in the youth of America."
ESPN.com, in a five-month investigation, did find such stories and talked with many players who were thankful for Adams' support and generosity. But a close look at A-HOPE, Indiana Elite and relationships with specific college programs revealed findings that in some cases might draw the scrutiny of NCAA investigators to Indiana, that have raised concerns among other college coaches and that have some prep school administrators and coaches swearing off working with A-HOPE again. Among the findings:
• After Drew Adams, the son of Mark Adams, was promoted to director of operations/video coordinator in April 2010, Crean signed or picked up commitments from eight players with ties to A-HOPE and/or the Indiana Elite program. According to summer team forms on file with the NCAA, the younger Adams previously coached three of the players with Indiana Elite, and his father acknowledges that two -- 2012 commits Perea and 7-foot-1-inch Peter Jurkin, part of a class ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN -- lived at his Bloomington, Ind., house last summer while he was their coach at Indiana Elite. Drew Adams' original hiring in September 2009 as IU's coordinator of basketball systems came just before an NCAA rule change that would have prohibited IU from signing players he previously was associated with for two years.
Amid questions about Adams' ties to his father's foundation and the Indiana Elite program, the 26-year-old left his hometown program May 6 for a same-titled position at New Mexico under former Hoosiers star Steve Alford. Just two weeks prior, IU compliance officials declined to address specific questions posed by ESPN.com about Adams' role with the Hoosiers, offering a general statement through an athletic department spokesman that their office "engages in active monitoring and educational efforts focused on a broad range of areas for all Indiana University sports programs our institution has reviewed our relationships with other educational institutions, non-profit foundations, and non-scholastic teams and organizations, including A-HOPE and Indiana Elite."
• A-HOPE paid for Perea's round-trips to Bogotá, Colombia, last summer and this past Christmas -- the latter not long after he verbally committed to the Hoosiers in October. Mark Adams also has provided Perea a cell phone and pays the bill, gave him a used iPod and bought a $400 laptop that Perea shares with another A-HOPE player. Such treatment potentially violates NCAA extra benefits bylaws and thus could impact Perea's initial NCAA eligibility at Indiana.
• Over the past three years, federal tax filings show that A-HOPE generated more than $200,000 in contributions, spending almost 80 percent on travel -- some of the money spent flying A-HOPE players from out-of-state prep schools to Indiana Elite practices. Only $68 was spent on schooling in the most recent tax year (2009).
• The 12 players A-HOPE identifies as members of its past five classes attended at least 32 U.S. high schools among them. "It seems to be this recruitment tool for the [summer travel teams]," says Chet Marshall, an administrator at Culver (Ind.) Academy, the first of four private schools attended by Perea. "And during the year, by the way, 'We'll find you a private school so you can stay out of trouble and no one else [in the basketball subculture] can find you.'"
• Indiana Elite founder Mike Barnett is accused by multiple sources of having raised the possibility of adopting former Indiana Elite player DeAndre Liggins, without his mother's permission, to influence his college selection. Four people familiar with Liggins' recruitment claim that Barnett, who professes close friendships with prominent college coaches and in the past has represented coaches in contract negotiations, also promptly discontinued Liggins' cellphone service when he committed to play at Kentucky rather than a Barnett-preferred school.
ESPN.com also found that A-HOPE, Indiana Elite and Indiana University have ties in multiple ways, part of which Adams acknowledges.
"The [Indiana Elite] basketball team is part of A-HOPE," Adams writes. "It is a vital part of providing a vehicle for the foreign students to receive a scholarship to continue their education."
Adams doubles as coach of the Indiana Elite under-17 team, and at least half of his 22 A-HOPE foundation players have suited up for Indiana Elite in past summers. His son, Drew, also had Indiana Elite coaching experience on his résumé when he was hired by IU in 2009. Alan Huss, another former Indiana Elite coach, is listed on federal tax filings as A-HOPE vice president. Through the years, Huss has coached almost a quarter of A-HOPE players in high school jobs he has held, including two in his current job at La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Ind.
Further, two of the three Indiana Elite founders have strong ties to Hoosiers basketball, as does Adams (IU class of 1980). Criss Beyers, another IU alum, is a onetime graduate assistant under Bob Knight. And Barnett, an adidas consultant based in Rochester, Ind., has a son playing for IU as a walk-on.
Dan Dakich, an ESPN college basketball analyst, also coaches an Indiana Elite 16-under team, has a contract with the adidas AAU Camp, is a former 10-year IU assistant coach under Bob Knight, and served as IU's interim head coach in 2008. Dakich says he is unfamiliar with the workings of A-HOPE, but adds: "I don't see those guys pushing them there (to Indiana). I understand that if I was a college coach that I would say, 'Well, what are they doing?' But knowing those guys that is just the way that they are. I just -- I don't think they are that involved, to tell you the truth.''
However, longtime basketball powerbroker Sonny Vaccaro calls adidas' sponsorship of Indiana Elite and the Hoosiers, as well as the blending of relationships around IU basketball, a "perfect storm," and one on the basketball fraternity radar.
"On paper, A-HOPE looks pretty good, but it is the same concept," says Vaccaro, who angered NCAA officials in the 1980s and '90s when he used shoe contract money to control the amateur basketball scene and influence players' college choices. "You get great players here and distribute them to colleges. None of it for the benefit of the [Sudanese people in general]. It is for the benefit of those individual kids and those schools and everyone else involved.
"In fact, it is brilliant. [Mike] Barnett works for adidas. His son is going to Indiana as a walk-on. The other guy's son [Drew Adams] is video coordinator or something [at Indiana before leaving for New Mexico]. And adidas can pay Indiana Elite good money to get good players and do whatever they do -- house them, feed them, travel with them.''
A study of the relationships offers a revealing glimpse into the subculture of big-time college basketball; in this case driven by an informal merger of two basketball-centric foundations, one based in neighborly Bloomington, Ind., another a world away on the African continent. No one suggests IU is bankrolling the ventures; rather that the main characters enjoy power and perks as they identify, develop and showcase teenage talent through the non-profit and top AAU team. It ranges from influence over the college choices of foreign-born players, particularly highlighted by the hometown Hoosiers and other favored programs, to helping their sons' land prized walk-on and basketball staff positions. NCAA officials have been aware of some of the details of the relationships for months, but they -- as-is policy -- decline to say whether they have plans to or are actively investigating any part of the relationships that concern college programs.
A-HOPE leader builds relationships, is guardian of two players
Mark Adams says that A-HOPE began rather simply: In 2003, an assistant college basketball coach asked whether he would help a couple of Nigerian teenagers who were eager to come to the United States for their high school education. Adams says that he stepped up, and, a year later, after asking an attorney whether there was a way to take tax deductions on the expenses he was running up, the A-HOPE Foundation was born as a not-for-profit charitable organization.
Word spread. More calls and emails followed from African students with "one heart-wrenching story after another," writes Adams, a 20-year veteran of summer ball coaching. According to the A-HOPE website, the foundation has played a hand in the lives of 22 basketball players, all but one from Africa -- top Indiana commitment Perea, who is from South America.
Sudan, in particular, has emerged as the latest frontier for tall, untapped basketball talent, with some comparing it favorably with Europe two decades ago. Of the past three A-HOPE classes from Africa, all the players are 6-foot-10-inches or taller, and four of the seven are over 7 feet tall.
Adams writes that he has made three trips to Africa, and contracted a strain of malaria on his most recent visit that hospitalized him for a week. This time next year, Adams, plans to retire from his job as a logistics management specialist with the U.S. Department of Defense, though he notes he has spent his "entire life savings" keeping A-HOPE afloat.
The A-HOPE Foundation is set up as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to "Facilitate African student athletes study in the U.S., but whose financial ability would otherwise make it impossible.'' Its latest federal tax Form 990 filing, covering 2009, shows:
Total revenue: $82,930
Total expenses: $82,929
Federal tax filings shed only a glimmer of light on the foundation.
According to public records reviewed by ESPN.com, A-HOPE has received contributions of $207,000 over the past three years while listing an almost equal amount in expenses. Adams refused to provide ESPN.com a list of donors but said a majority of funds have come from himself, his girlfriend of 15 years, his ex-wife, his brother and sponsors of Indiana Elite -- including adidas, which has provided shoes, uniforms and a "small amount of money."
A-HOPE expenditures, Adams says, include covering the cost of players' travel to Bloomington when their private schools break for summer recess, as well as trips to visit relatives and friends. "What that usually means is, I transfer money from my personal account to the A-HOPE account and buy the tickets," Adams writes. "A-HOPE Foundation money comes from my personal account and from relatives."
Adams also acknowledges that "expenses that [the] basketball team incurs" during the summer are included in A-HOPE foundation expenses.
In an email exchange with ESPN.com, Indiana athletics officials declined to discuss what steps they've taken to monitor the Hoosiers basketball program's ties to A-HOPE or Indiana Elite, though officials noted their compliance office has reviewed the relationships. They also declined to answer whether they had requested access to either group's donors list.
Adams is adamant, however, that there are no hidden A-HOPE contributors, writing in an email response: "That is it! No one else! Not one penny from anyone remotely related to Indiana University or any other college."
Although there is no reference in A-HOPE tax filings, Adams says the foundation is in partnership with Sports Revolution Foundation -- a nonprofit based in Juba, Sudan, that is led by former University of Wisconsin basketball player Duany Duany.
Duany is listed as international director of A-HOPE. His brother Kueth is an A-HOPE board member, and another brother, Bil, is an Indiana Elite coach. The brothers grew up in Bloomington and enjoyed successful college basketball careers, though none played for the hometown Hoosiers. Duany Duany later obtained his master's from IU and his parents their doctorates.
The Duany family has deep ties in Southern Sudan politics and is involved in multiple startup businesses. The father is a member of parliament, and Duany Duany describes his mother, undersecretary for the ministry of parliamentary affairs, as the "Nancy Pelosi of south Sudan." The Sports Revolution Foundation, he explains, comes under a myriad of commercial and civic-minded ventures run by the Sudan-based family business, the Duany Group.
One of the spinoffs is Sports Revolution Scouting Service, a fee-based service set up to offer college coaches information on Sudanese basketball talent. The website has been down since January, and Duany says it needs work before it can be up and running again. Duany, whose recruiting trips are paid for by his foundation, says the site charges a fee of $450 but has had few subscribers, explaining: "You want to go look at some of the players we have, or some of the student-athletes we have from all kinds of backgrounds. Yeah, you can't get in there for free."
Adams writes that he has no role with Sports Revolution or its website, though a link to it exists on the A-HOPE website, and Adams' name and address are listed as the registrant of the Sports Revolution domain name, according to Internet domain registries.
Duany Duany describes himself as A-HOPE's main recruiter of Sudanese talent in recent years. The foundation has staged sports clinics throughout the country's southern region and has tried to identify and assist athletes in getting college scholarships.
ESPN Insider Rankings
With four ESPNU 100 prospects already in the fold, coach Tom Crean and Indiana currently have the top incoming class at this early stage of the recruiting process. Story »
"The partnership is A-HOPE over here because it is based here," Duany says. "We took it [to Africa]. We expanded and everything. There wouldn't be really A-HOPE Foundation without Sports Revolution."
No public records could be found for Sports Revolution, and websites for the various Duany ventures are no longer active, having gone dark sometime after January.
The lack of transparency with foundations in general spins the heads of NCAA investigators, headquartered in Indianapolis. An NCAA official told ESPN.com that the almost secretive foundations are "one of our biggest problems."
Case in point: Hanner Mosquera-Perea, the Indiana commit who is the focus of an NCAA investigation of the Baylor basketball program. He not only is tied to A-HOPE Foundation and thus Sports Revolution but also was discovered in Colombia as a 12-year-old by coaches who have a basketball-related foundation in Bogotá. While A-HOPE is perceived as IU friendly, the Colombian coaches are seen as favoring Baylor.
When it comes to providing details such as the A-HOPE donor list, Adams is highly protective of his foundation. He writes of taking players on unofficial visits to college campuses and serving as legal guardian for two players, saying it's not important to identify who they are.
His ex-wife, Julie Adams, adopted Muhammed Conteh, who was 14 when he arrived from Gambia. In Conteh's profile in the Western Michigan basketball media guide this past season, she is listed as his mother.
"At first when I came here, I felt like I didn't belong here," Conteh says. "I just adjust and adapt slow. I'm not saying I fit in, but I at least know what is going on and everyone around me loves me. They treat me like family.
"[Julie Adams] basically treats me like one of her kids."
Julie Adams provides a phone card so he can call home to Africa every weekend, says Conteh, a 6-7 junior. She made arrangements several years ago so his birth mother could attend his graduation from a private school in Jacksonville, Fla. And when he was still attending high school in Florida and needed to return for Indiana Elite practices, she made travel arrangements.
"It was through A-HOPE Foundation," he says when asked who paid his travel costs. "She would call a cab, and they would come and pick me up at my school, drop me off at the airport. And then when I am returning to school, the cab would be waiting for me at the airport and drop me back at school.
"Like anytime I got a little weekend break, they would fly me out of my school and then go play AAU and fly me back."
IU picks up recruits, but all involved deny preferential treatment
It's clear the immediate future of Indiana basketball rests on the fortunes of Indiana Elite/A-HOPE players. Back in the days of Bob Knight, Nike-backed Bloomington Red enjoyed a similar reputation as a feeder program for Hoosiers basketball. Almost three decades later, the favored team now is Indiana Elite -- supported largely by adidas money, apparel and shoes.
The key backers of Indiana Elite are pro-Hoosiers, but none carries more weight, particularly with foreign athletes, than Mark Adams.
Adams has been known to take on a fatherlike persona with players who leave their parents overseas. Some stay with him in Bloomington for their summer AAU season. He acknowledges helping players during the recruiting process but denies claims by some former A-HOPE players that he pushes a few favored programs.
"I would never tell any player where they should go to college, and anybody that thinks that is the case is very misinformed," Adams writes.
Criss Beyers, an Indiana Elite founder, says the team doesn't advise players on where to attend college, though he acknowledges that Adams' relationship is unique.
"I can say that Mark has a vested interest in these kids that have gone through the A-HOPE Foundation," says Beyers, the longtime assistant athletic director and coach at Bloomington South High who has known Mark Adams since he was 9. "I don't mean monetarily. I mean a sincere interest in seeing that they are successful. For him to direct a player to a certain school, or to look at certain schools and consider certain schools, is different than what my role would be because these kids stay with Mark.
"These kids rely on Mark for his experiences, for his assessment of different situations or different schools. They want his input. He is the closest thing a lot of them have to family over here. So they want his input and need his input."
Barnett, another Indiana Elite founder, acknowledges that the Indiana University basketball program has enjoyed a couple of built-in advantages: Adams' son, Drew, has a relationship with players because of his prior Indiana Elite coaching experience, and players spend summers with Adams.
"Because Mark lives in Bloomington, they go to open gym over there [on the Indiana campus]," Barnett says. "They get to know the kids. Is it an advantage? Absolutely, it is an advantage. That is where Mark lives. So they have more access to the program within the rules. If Mark lived in Louisville, they're not going to open gym in IU. They're not getting to know the players and all that stuff, and feeling like, 'Wow, this is a place I want to be.' That is the advantage. But I've never seen Mark try to tell a kid, 'You shouldn't go there, you shouldn't go here, you should go here.' Not even remotely close."
Two former players, though, maintain that Adams wields his influence. And in Colombia, the guardian and the former coach of Perea, rated a Top 25 player in the Class of 2012, suspect Adams of playing a role in the teenager's commitment to Indiana this past fall.
Another player, Fabrice Tafo, says Adams wanted him to commit to Eastern Illinois before his senior year of high school in 2004 and join Adams' son, Drew, who was a year ahead of him there. Tafo says that Adams was disappointed when he failed to sign -- a claim Mark Adams labels "total fabrication."
Tafo describes Mark Adams as a primary contact for colleges recruiting A-HOPE's players, as well as a person the players trust and listen to.
"If Mark Adams brings you here and the college coaches like you, [the coaches] have to go through Mark Adams first before you get to the [player]," Tafo says. "He is the one who is taking care of you. He is the one who brought you here. He is paying for it. He is doing everything for you. So you have to listen to him. The way they put it is he is trying to do the best for you. At the same time, I don't really know if [it] is the best for you."
David Nyarsuk, a 7-1 center out of Sudan, says Adams shows preference with his top players not only to Indiana but also to New Mexico and, in the past, Tennessee -- programs or coaches that have had ties to his son. Drew Adams was a walk-on at Iowa under Alford, the former Indiana Mr. Basketball and current New Mexico coach, and Adams began his nonplaying career as a student manager at Tennessee.
Nyarsuk says Mark Adams sent him to a camp at New Mexico with another 7-foot Sudanese center, Chier Ajou, who has since committed to the Lobos.
"He has allegiance with those people," Nyarsuk says. "Tennessee and Indiana, he has a big allegiance. Those are schools his son was with. Before, when Drew was coaching there at Tennessee, he has allegiance with Tennessee. After [Drew left], he don't want nobody to go to Tennessee. Tennessee is not recruiting any of his players. Tennessee used to recruit every one of us."
Drew Adams was breaking in as a student manager in Knoxville when Emmanuel Negedu arrived on campus in 2008. Negedu signed with Tennessee after backing out of a commitment to Arizona when Lute Olson took a leave of absence and eventually retired. Earlier, Adams was a coach for two Indiana Elite teams on which Negedu played. Negedu also had spent three summers living with Adams' father in Bloomington.
By the start of the 2009-10 season, Drew Adams had taken the entry-level paying gig at Indiana. Negedu, who had suffered a heart ailment, attempted to transfer to Indiana last May after not being cleared to play at Tennessee. But two weeks after IU administrators refused to allow Negedu to play there despite clearance from medical staff, the 6-7 Nigerian forward ended up at New Mexico, where it was announced last month he was quitting the game because of recurring heart issues but would remain on scholarship.
Negedu joined former Indiana Elite star guard Dairese Gary at New Mexico, and Ajou, the Sudanese center, committed this past September. Not only is Alford, a Hoosiers legend, connected through his Bloomington ties, having coached Drew Adams and now hired him to his staff but Barnett -- the Indiana Elite founder and adidas consultant -- is Alford's former agent, having handled his contract renegotiation at Iowa and his initial deal at New Mexico.
"It was my decision where I wanted to go, no matter who is there," Negedu says of his college decisions.
Mark Adams says he didn't play a role in Negedu's signing with Tennessee or subsequent transfer to New Mexico, but notes that his family and Negedu are close and that his son, Drew, rushed from Indiana to be with Negedu when he was hospitalized in Tennessee. "Drove through the night to be at his bedside like he would if his own brother was there," Adams writes. "My family has taken in these kids as one of our own family members. To say anything shady has occurred to any of these kids is sickening."
A-HOPE didn't bring Negedu to the United States, even though he is listed on the A-HOPE website: Class of 2008. Godwin Owinje, a fellow Nigerian who played at Georgetown in the late 1990s, told ESPN.com he discovered Negedu at a tryout camp and handled the legal paperwork to bring him to this country.
Owinje says he and his then-partner in Radar Hoops, current Denver Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri, arranged for Negedu to attend Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, noting it was the prep school's coach, Jason Smith, who connected Negedu with Adams and his summer travel team. That move led to harsh words between Owinge and Smith, Owinje recalls.
"That was not a good experience," says Owinje, who runs camps in Nigeria and a subscription-based scouting service. "It was a hassle just dealing with Adams, because [of issues] a couple of times when the kid wanted to go back home and play on the junior national team. Adams was telling me his AAU team comes first. I am like, 'There is no way. This is a kid I brought to the United States. You can't tell me.'"
About this same time, Owinje claims he warned Adams not to attempt to play a hand in Negedu's college recruitment, but now he doesn't know what to think. "The kid was doing his own thing without my consent, so I just let him go," Owinje says.
Adams writes in an email: "Emmanuel chose Tenn., I didn't have anything to do to with it."
Crean: Hard work on recruiting has paid off -- nothing else is going on
With all of the connections and movement, if folks fancy Indiana University silly enough to cheat these days, they're crazy. This opinion echoes through a phone line from coach Tom Crean, who three years ago inherited a Hoosiers program on probation after recruiting violations under former coach Kelvin Sampson. Crean paints an image of an IU compliance department that is on his tail 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "Transparency" is a buzzword he utters with regularity, saying, "I never understood what that word meant 'til I got to Indiana."
He is well aware of A-HOPE and Indiana Elite, but how they operate is none of his business, he says. People talk bad about IU, Crean says, because they want to hold the program down, thus gaining a leg up in recruiting the talent-rich state. He wonders aloud whether Baylor and in-state rival Purdue might be shoveling dirt, though neither school's coaching staff or boosters cooperated with ESPN.com in the reporting of this story.
As Crean drove the back roads of Indiana on a late-season recruiting trip, his 11-year-old son asleep by his side, the coach was understandably protective of his program in an interview. "The situation is, we have been working," he says. "And the last thing I am going to do or have anybody in this program do is apologize for how hard we have been working.
"And when you recruit as aggressively as we're trying to recruit, especially in a world like this where it served people to have Indiana stay down a lot more than it served people to have Indiana come back up, you understand it and you don't really worry about it. If I was worried about it, I wouldn't be out recruiting tonight."
He acknowledges that recruiting, as has been true since before the days of John Wooden, is all about relationships, and he's not apologetic about working those.
He clearly appreciates the current and long-term value of Kory Barnett, a Hoosiers walk-on and son of the Indiana Elite founder. Crean gushes about Barnett, one of IU's five walk-ons, saying he is the "best leader we have" and someone he would like to hire onto his staff after graduation.
Crean was understandably antsy to tap into the in-state talent, having watched in his first couple of seasons as a parade of Hoosier recruits landed at Purdue or headed out of state to play. Of the 16 players he signed, only three had Indiana roots. In the past year alone, eight players with A-HOPE or Indiana Elite ties have signed or committed to play in Bloomington.
And he acknowledges that hiring Drew Adams afforded IU inroads to some prime talent from A-HOPE and Indiana Elite. In that, Crean praises Adams as a bright coaching prospect, a tireless worker and underpaid at that, suggesting he turned down considerably more money to return home to Bloomington. And if he hadn't hired Adams, some other brand-name program would have, he says. Adams couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.
Asked whether he thought the other schools, which Crean wouldn't name for public attribution, saw then in Adams the same potential access to players, he said: "Oh, the same thing. It is that kind of business. You got to build relationships. You just have to."
One of those schools was Memphis; head coach Josh Pastner -- who cut his coaching teeth in the AAU ranks -- recalls considering Drew Adams for an administrative assistant's position after inquiries from Drew and Drew's father. Pastner acknowledges that Adams had a "lot of good contacts," but at the time the coach was more concerned with finding someone who could handle administrative chores than with the potential access to players.
"I knew the background of both Drew and Mark, but I couldn't afford in the position that I was in to hire a guy I didn't feel was going to help in the area I was going to hire him at," Pastner says. "In an administrative role, players wasn't what I needed in that. I needed organization in the [person's] background."
Pastner suggests that a "gray area" in NCAA rules existed between Drew's former IU staff position and his father's A-HOPE and Indiana Elite roles, though it may well have been legal -- the outcome typical of a father-son relationship.
"Mark is Drew's father, and Mark is always going to look after his son, and those are facts," says Pastner, noting that his dad is also an AAU coach. "On the other hand, Mark is also giving kids opportunities in life that maybe [they] wouldn't have an opportunity in life without the game of basketball. And not every kid at that program is good enough to play at Indiana or Memphis or Tennessee. My thing is I believe he is doing it to all the kids, and if he is treating all the kids the same and if a kid or two is good enough to play at Indiana and Coach Crean says, 'Man, I'd love to have him,' and Drew is on that [Indiana] staff and the dad has some influence on the kid and the kid trusts the dad, and the dad says, 'I think Indiana is best choice,' then that is normal."
That's what high school and AAU coaches do, he reasons.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey also acknowledges that recruiting can occur that way, though saying he can't recall landing an Indiana Elite or A-HOPE player in 11 years. As for IU's recent run of success, he says: "I certainly know what Bloomington means to a kid that has grown up in Indiana. It's doesn't matter what AAU team you play for, that has been a powerful thing. And I think Tom [Crean] has done a really good job of getting the momentum going in the state again."
Mark Adams says his son's resume speaks for itself. "He is as much or more qualified for his position than any Director of Basketball Operations person in the country He has paid his dues, he works long hours, he works extremely hard and nothing has been given to him. There is no reason for me, Drew or IU to feel bad or ashamed for his position. As a father, I am very proud of what he accomplished in his career."
Crean recalls first meeting Drew Adams and his father at the Final Four in San Antonio shortly after landing the Indiana job, but says it wasn't Mark Adams who pushed the hiring of Drew. Instead, it was Tim Buckley, an IU assistant who had been on Steve Alford's staff at Iowa when Drew was a walk-on.
"I loved the fact that he was coaching in the summertime and being a part of those programs and knew players and things like that," Crean says of Adams, whose lone college experience had been as a student manager at Tennessee. He adds, "I mean, come on, man -- I knew when we hired Drew and he is in that program and things of that nature, that people were going to view it [suspiciously]."
Still, Crean backtracks on the notion that IU has enjoyed a significant advantage because Adams had coached players in summer ball whom the Hoosiers were recruiting, including three from Indiana Elite who later signed or committed. Crean plays down the familiarity angle, suggesting, "When long-term memory for the average human being scientifically shows to be three days, we can't bank on that."
Others give IU far more credit for working relationships, insisting that the perception within basketball circles is that the A-HOPE/Indiana Elite combo is very Hoosier-friendly. It's not that every player runs off to Bloomington. Or that IU is the only program tapping into a friendly network. It's simply folks noting that Indiana -- especially in the 12 months between Drew Adams' promotion and his sudden departure -- landed most (if not all) of the players it wanted who had ties to A-Hope or Indiana Elite.
Blake Ress, the longtime commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association before stepping down in February, told ESPN.com that he's had issues in the past with basketball players staying at Adams' Bloomington house. He says he long viewed the summer basketball culture, in some cases complimented by imported players, through a leery eye. He describes Indiana Elite as being perceived as uber-friendly towards IU, adding: "Yeah, the whole thing smells.''
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
ESPN TOP HEADLINES
- San Francisco, Houston win Super Bowl bids
- Boeheim: Melo needs better supporting cast
- Golf bans anchor putting, cites 'free swing'
- Durant to donate $1M to OKC tornado relief