Suit claims assistant knew also

Updated: June 10, 2004, 10:45 AM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A lawsuit that led to the firing of Ohio State men's basketball coach Jim O'Brien alleges that O'Brien and an assistant knew that player Boban Savovic received regular payments and classroom help, in defiance of NCAA rules.

Kathleen Salyers, who said she housed and fed the player for two years, testified in a deposition in April that she spent thousands of dollars on phone bills, car insurance and spending money for Savovic, who was on the 1998-99 team that O'Brien led to the Final Four. She said she often put the money in Savovic's medicine cabinet.

Dick Vitale's Take
I was shocked and stunned to learn of Ohio State's decision to fire Jim O'Brien. If there's one head coach who has been considered Mr. Integrity over his 28 years of coaching -- from being an assistant at Connecticut to his head coaching stints at St. Bonaventure, Boston College and Ohio State -- it's O'Brien.

During those 28 years, there has never been a hint of impropriety. Anyone who knows him feels that he's as honest as they come. He's a class guy in the coaching fraternity, and that's why I was shocked to hear of his dismissal. I was even more surprised when I heard the reason -- that he admitted he gave $6,000 to a youngster from overseas in the recruiting process. It blows my mind.

You can't condone the fact that he gave the player's family that money, no matter what the reason. While it may have been a humanitarian gesture, it was wrong. A punishment was necessary. But considering his entire resumé, my first glance at the allegations tells me O'Brien should have been given a chance to explain.

The player's brother, Predrag Savovic, played for Hawaii from 1999-2003.

Salyers said Ohio State assistant coach Paul Biancardi regularly contacted her about Boban Savovic and often told her he was calling at O'Brien's instruction.

"He [Biancardi] called and told me when taxes were due, when Boban was flunking a class, to go and talk to the professor and have his grade changed," Salyers said. "There were many, many calls from Paul Biancardi requesting that I pay something for Boban."

Ohio State fired O'Brien on Tuesday after he admitted he gave $6,000 in 1999 to Aleksandar Radojevic, a Buckeyes recruit who never played for or attended Ohio State. Radojevic was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for accepting money to play for a professional team in Yugoslavia.

Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger learned of the payment because it was mentioned in Salyers' statement in her lawsuit.

NCAA rules prohibit student athletes from receiving any financial help from anyone other than family members.

In the deposition, Salyers said she did not receive $1,000 per month plus expenses she had been promised by Dan and Kim Roslovic, Savovic's sponsors. Salyers sued the Ohio State boosters, seeking $510,000 in expenses and damages.

She also acknowledged that her attorney asked O'Brien for money to keep her story from becoming public.

An attorney asked Salyers in the deposition, "Kathy, have you authorized your attorney to send a letter to OSU in which your attorney offered to sell the book and movie rights to Jim O'Brien or to an entity controlled by Jim O'Brien?"

She responded, "I authorized my attorney to send every letter that he sent."

Biancardi, now head coach at Wright State, denied the allegations.

"I am disappointed and frustrated over the situation that has evolved from a lawsuit in which I am not a party and have had no involvement," he said in a statement released Wednesday. "These statements are not supported by facts and are uncorroborated."

O'Brien's attorney, Jim Zeszutek, on Wednesday questioned Salyers' truthfulness.

"Anyone who reads that transcript will walk away with a lot of questions about her credibility," he said.

Zeszutek said the money to Radojevic was a loan, not a gift, and came from O'Brien's bank account.

Radojevic's father had died and his mother was ill and couldn't work. "Coach O'Brien decided he would help him out with a loan," Zeszutek said. "He figured Alek had already signed but might not ever play because of academic questions and that the kid really needed some help."

In her deposition, Salyers confirmed she kept more than $6,000 that Radojevic -- after he signed an NBA contract -- had given her to repay O'Brien. She said Biancardi, on behalf of O'Brien, asked Radojevic for the money back but that no one from Ohio State ever stopped by for the money. She said several months later she applied it to her mortgage payment.

Messages seeking comment were left for Salyers, Kim Roslovic and their attorneys. Savovic's whereabouts were not known.

The Roslovics, since divorced, had befriended Savovic when he came to Columbus. Savovic, from what used to be Yugoslavia, was not a U.S. citizen and required someone to vouch for him in this country.

Salyers, who was the Roslovics' babysitter, said she agreed to take in Savovic after receiving a call from Dan Roslovic, who said he was calling from Biancardi's basketball office.

According to the lawsuit, the Roslovics said Savovic could no longer stay with them because of NCAA rules. Salyers said Biancardi told her she should lie and tell people that Savovic was living in her house because he was a friend of her son's and they played basketball together.

Salyers said she did most of Savovic's homework for three years because he had difficulty with the English language.

Of the diploma he received from Ohio State, she says: "I was pretty upset by the whole thing, I think, thinking what a diploma would mean from Ohio State, that it's hardly worth the paper it's written on."

Salyers estimates that she gave Boban Savovic $200 on 120 occasions -- a total of $24,000 -- frequently putting the cash in his medicine chest because he was uncomfortable taking the money directly from her hand.

"Boban had a lot of pride," Salyers testified. "I'd say, 'Boban, go comb your hair.' And he'd go in the bathroom and get the money and come out and hug me."

Salyers provided receipts representing at least $1,600 she paid in car insurance on Savovic's 1990 Acura Legend. She said she paid at least $800 in phone bills and paid Savovic's international taxes. She paid for his brother, Predrag, to fly in from Hawaii for a visit and for Savovic's mother to receive medical treatment.

"It's just endless," Salyers said under oath. "It just goes on and on and on."

Her deposition also alleged:

  • That Savovic and a booster had a sexual relationship.

  • That Savovic amassed a bill of more than $10,000 on a long-distance telephone card that belonged to the father of New York player agent Mark Cornstein. NCAA rules bar any contact between agents and eligible players.

  • That Cornstein had access to Ohio State players and she had seen him in the Buckeyes' locker room after games.

    Cornstein did not answer a message left seeking comment.

    Interim Ohio State coach Rick Boyages acknowledged Wednesday that he knew Cornstein but declined further comment because of the pending NCAA and Ohio State investigation.

    Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press