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Wednesday, March 5, 2003
Updated: March 6, 8:07 AM ET
Put the messenger in a bottle

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Frankly, this latest in a series of fine messes that college basketball has made of itself at Georgia (or Fresno State, or Michigan, or St. Bonnie's, etc.) doesn't surprise me. It's why I try to avoid the Tony Coles of the world in the first place. When I see a face trying too hard to look innocent, I run. When I hear that many "yes sirs" blown up my butt, I haul it out of there. I book. I remember Addie Pray.

Tony Cole
Is Cole's whine being made from sour grapes?
Just become some cheeky but misguided and incompetent coach's son getting by on the Inheritance/nepotism scam misevaluates you, that doesn't mean anything to me, kid; nor, if you were as smart as you think, would it mean much of anything to you. You'd try to get your lessons in, or, if not that, at least take partial credentials from an "institution of high learning" (also known as "temple of long con").

Why? Because, kid, in the first place, by my eye, a major-league trained eye, you play basketball no better than, say, Master P, or Nancy Leiberman (remember, she's over 40 years old now). So you know what all the fuss means?

Nothing.

What Tony "Who? Which?" Cole has "charged" the Harricks and Georgia with only means something if it's out of the ordinary, if it's something that doesn't happen often, at a hundred other places, as a regular practice, as the price of doing business. It's not. It only means something if it happened to somebody extraordinary. It didn't. It happened to an early-blooming, would-be high-level hooper who was as good as he was going to get by the ninth grade, who went to five high schools and, with the help of (fill in the blank), then went to five junior colleges, on the premise that he (a) would try to take advantage of the opportunity or (b) he could play some basketball.

At least have the common courtesy of being able to play a little basketball. If you're going to display such a misguided sense of entitlement. At least have a reel you can show us. Something. Otherwise, the Harricks and Georgia look like total suckers, the player getting played, the con man getting conned. And you, kid, you don't end up looking honest, or noble, or talented, or employable; you look like the scariest one of them all.

Think you were an orphan to begin with? Just wait.

Take "Georgia (or ""Kentucky" or "Louisville" or "Arizona" or "Maryland" or "UCLA") off your jersey, and you couldn't get people to come inside to watch you play if you were offering free sneakers with the deal. Hot Sauce and the And1 crew have more of a following. Oh by the way, don't even bother. For you, they're not hiring.

I mean, if you want a big controversy over your exploited basketball gifts and humanity, at least have the decency to show up with basketball gifts and/or some humanity.

This isn't exactly a dyslexic Hawk, Connie Hawkins being made illegally eligible but not really understanding what was going on around him at Iowa in the '50s or '60s. This isn't an illiterate Kevin Ross, illiterate after playing four years at Creighton and being squeezed dry as a commodity and then having to squeeze into one of Marva Collins' first-grade chairs, to learn to decipher the Arabic alphabet.

This isn't even Chris Webber.

Tony Who? Which? What? OK, first you say you were put up in an Athens hotel room at the end of one summer for a couple weeks for free. Not much of a room, apparently, not like the Ritz-Carlton or anything, but OK, you got put up in a decent, clean room. You should be thankful. That may be one of the last decent clean hotel rooms you ever see ... surely it's the last free one. Now you want me to believe, actually believe, that this was some kind of malfeasance? Why? You can't even spell it. Were you not worth a decent clean hotel room for two weeks? You got a free room. So what?

Rules? Against the rules? As you have so often thought under your own breath -- what rules? Whose rules? It may have been against the "rules." But it wasn't against the law.

Georgia fans
The Dawg faithful are sticking with Coach Harrick.
Then you got credit for classes you never took at junior college. You admit that? You just rendered whatever certificate the junior college gave you useless. Then a $300 phone bill of yours got paid. And? Be happy. Be glad that someone on the other end was willing to talk to you for that long. Obviously, you weren't calling one of the Harricks.

Then you say you got a color TV. You are becoming publicity-dependent over that? You think young women find you as irresistible as Mike Tyson with that gift list? Then you found out Jim Harrick Jr. was "teaching" a class that good old University of Georgia was including in its curriculum that would advance you toward a college degree. Why, that's like finding a $1,000 dollar bill in the street. Jim Harrick Jr., knowing no better, gave you an "A," good of him since you had only demanded a B. Obviously the class wasn't Playing College Basketball -- or was it? You'd get an A or an F in that, don't know which.

It all depends on what you mean by "playing."

This reminds me of Joe David Brown's novel, "Addie Pray." Our readers might recall it as "Paper Moon," the 1973 movie starring Ryan and Tatum O'Neal as Moses Pray and Addie Loggins. That book/film plotline fits college basketball to the proverbial T, both in general, and the Harricks and Tony "Who? Which?" Cole specifically.

Don't know the story? Quick run-through: Little Addie's guardian has died; Moses shows up at the funeral, looking sad and contrite, but figuring on ways to separate the locals from their money. He says he's a rep of the "Kansas Bible Company." It's the time of the Depression. Moses goes around the Midwest Plains scanning the obits for recent widows, then shows up and charms them, saying their late husbands had ordered an exorbitantly overpriced Bible, knowing that they will buy it, not because of the product itself, which is hardly worth six bits, but because of the memory of the dead, the institution.

While this was not exactly Dillinger, it was still taking your money, and doing it in the name of religion and tradition and history and honor. "A traveling man speading the Lord's gospel in these troubled times," as Moses puts it. Sound familiar?

Annie pegs Moses as a con artist in an eyeblink. Being young, she has no trouble adapting to her environment and to the conduct she sees as effective or admirable in adults around her. Moses is supposed to be delivering her to the promised land of her relatives in St. Joe -- not that it matters to him, but why not use the kid to help the con along? She's willing. In the end, with his example, she's able. More than able. She's better at it than he is! Addie is even more of a shark, and winds up having him over a barrel, with her cute little hat.

It reminds me now of Tony "Who? Which?" Cole and the headband he wore during interviews with Jeremy Schaap. A perfect short con move, a magician's move, a distraction -- why is that kid wearing a headband when he's sitting for an interview and not playing ball? Ah, that little charade you played with Jeremy, spooning on obsequious "yes sirs" -- you think that could fool a Corleone, kid?

Jim Harrick
Harrick believes time will tell the true tale.
Tony Cole has as much of a future in basketball at any level right now as I have as a new member of Augusta National. And as smooth as he is, he could've bided his time and had Jim Harrick Jr.'s job in five years. Now he's "Oz" fodder.

He may succeed in bringing low the Harricks. And if that's the case, they deserve each other. Low? They and college basketball are already there. Georgia and Jim Harrick Sr. finally woke up and smelled the coffee and dismissed him from the team -- basically tried to drop him off before they got to St. Joe.

He wasn't hearing it; he'd grown accustomed to their pace. If anybody was getting dropped off, he wasn't going to be the only one. And now, here we are, the conned being told we've been conned by those that con us, trying our best to act shocked while shamed by our complicity.

But, in the end, we're greedy. Usually, it's the greedy that are most easily conned in the first place. Make no mistake, Tone -- what was the last name again? -- in spite of your attempts to expose it as dirty, college hoops was there before you got there, and it'll be there when you're gone.

You'll be surprised to hear this, Top Cat, but nobody is surprised, and nobody cares. Not about you. College hoop will keep right on going, missing only the calliope oom-pah band, and your little narrow, eminently replaceable ass.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."