The ugly side to Hurricane Katrina, the despair that led to the looting this past week in New Orleans, has spilled into the seemingly trivial world of college basketball.
Monte Towe, head coach of the displaced University of New Orleans, told ESPN.com on Saturday that his best player, sophomore guard Bo McCalebb, is being approached by intermediaries representing other schools to leave the university. This comes on the heels of the school deciding Friday, according to Towe, that the Privateers will play this season.
Where and when is still up for debate. Towe and athletic director Jim Miller are investigating possible sites such as Tyler Junior College (Texas) and Chipola Junior College (Fla.).
McCalebb, who is from New Orleans, rode out the storm with his mother in their home near the French Quarter. When the levee broke Tuesday and flooding began, Towe advised the McCalebbs to evacuate. He suggested Baton Rouge, but they drove to Houston to be with family instead.
"We're a microcosm of the whole city of New Orleans because now someone is trying to loot my players," Towe said by cell phone from St. Augustine, Fla., where he went for a planned trip last Thursday before the hurricane hit.
"My kids are vulnerable right now but we're going to have a season and play ball," Towe said. "Every player knows that and I've told them that if they don't feel they can be successful under these conditions, then I'll let you go. But based on conversations I've had, they'll be ready to go, including Bo.
"People [talking to McCalebb, who averaged 22.6 points a game last season] have been acting on behalf of institutions," added Towe, who wouldn't name the programs. "He's not getting calls from coaches, but he's getting calls from people representing coaches and schools saying that 'you're not going to have a basketball team this season and we've got an apartment for you.' I've fought this for a year with McCalebb but fortunately for me he loves New Orleans."
New Orleans athletic director Jim Miller wouldn't divulge any other schools he suspects of tampering with McCalebb, but added, "the most disturbing part of what has occurred is the vultures are circling."
NCAA president Myles Brand said on Thursday that transfer situations would be considered and that the organization would be flexible. In his news release, Brand did not say for sure that players could transfer without having to sit out, just like Baylor's players were allowed to do two years ago. Under NCAA rules, New Orleans would have to release a player from his scholarship before other schools rightfully could call that player.
"The difference with us and Baylor is that was over the summer," Towe said. "We've started school [on Aug. 22]. If it got to a point where we weren't going to have a team, then I would tell Bo to go to NC State or Alabama or wherever. But we're past that point and we will have a season. We might play 28 road games, but life could be worse. We're still the University of New Orleans and it might be on a different floor, but we're going to help rebuild this city."
In this instance, Towe said NCAA administrators in Indianapolis should not allow players to transfer so they instead could help schools like UNO rebuild.
"We're a member of the NCAA," Towe said. "We're not Duke, but we're the University of New Orleans and they need to make sure a member organization is taken care of. Our women's basketball team is going through the same thing. It's disgusting, people trying to kick someone while they're down."
Towe said he's not certain of the extent of the damage to the university, Lakefront Arena or his home. He said his players and coaching staff evacuated last weekend to be with extended family and friends around the country.
UNO finished 7-8 in the Sun Belt last season, 13-17 overall, but with McCalebb could be one of the better teams in the Sun Belt this season.
"I don't know what I have to go back to, but we're going to have a season," Towe said. "It's going to be a little bit abnormal but we're going to play and we expect our kids to play well."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.