COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Fired Ohio State basketball coach Jim
O'Brien testified Monday that he lent $6,000 to a recruit because
he knew the player had competed professionally and would never join
O'Brien spoke during the opening day of the trial in his
wrongful firing lawsuit against Ohio State, which says he knew he
was violating NCAA rules by keeping the loan secret for more than
O'Brien, who had been the Buckeyes' coach for seven years, was
fired June 8, 2004. Then-athletic director Andy Geiger said O'Brien
was dismissed after the coach acknowledged to him he had given
$6,700 in 1999 to 7-foot-3 Aleksandar Radojevic.
O'Brien described the amount as $6,000 of his own cash that he
kept in a locked desk drawer. He said he already had learned in a
letter that Radojevic played for a professional team in his native
Serbia, and the player confirmed it for him.
"He had lost his amateur status," O'Brien said. "Unless
something was going to change, he was not going to play for an NCAA
University attorneys said it was still a violation because
Radojevic had not been disqualified officially.
O'Brien is suing in the Ohio Court of Claims for $3.5 million in
back pay and benefits, which could grow by millions if interest and
other damages are awarded.
Geiger was questioned by O'Brien's attorney, Joseph Murray, and
the exchange grew contentious at times.
Geiger conceded that Ohio State did not ask O'Brien any
questions, did not consult with the NCAA on its eligibility bylaws
and did not begin an investigation in the six weeks between the
time Geiger first learned of the loan to Radojevic and O'Brien's
"I was positive he [O'Brien] had committed an NCAA violation.
... I knew there would be sanctions," Geiger said. He later said
the dates, times and some conversations were a "jumble" to him
The trial is separate from the NCAA's investigation into
violations while O'Brien was coaching the Buckeyes.
On Friday, the NCAA's Infractions Committee in Indianapolis
started and then postponed a hearing into seven breaches of NCAA
bylaws between 1998 and 2004. There are also violations in the
football and women's basketball programs. Ohio State has admitted
to the violations except an accusation that the university did not
have control over the men's basketball program.
Ohio State learned of O'Brien's payment to Radojevic through a
lawsuit by a woman who said she provided housing, meals and clothes
for another Ohio State recruit from the same area, Slobodan
Savovic. He played four years with the Buckeyes, including the
1998-99 team that O'Brien led to the Final Four, and is the source
of several of the NCAA violations.
O'Brien, who coached the Buckeyes to a 133-88 record that
included two Big Ten titles and a conference tournament title,
previously has said he lent Radojevic his own money because the
player's father was dying and the family had no money for medicine
or the funeral.
"It was the right thing to do because of the circumstances of
the family," O'Brien testified.
David Cupps, an attorney representing Ohio State, asked why
O'Brien waited so long before reporting the loan. O'Brien said it
was because of how the gesture could be perceived.
"That's exactly what is taking place." he said. "The
perception, because the words that I hear are 'payment,
inducement,' and none of those are accurate."
In his opening statement, Cupps said O'Brien harmed the
"To brand us as renegades ... is a black eye to the program
which no amount of effort inside the university can arrest," he
Murray said Ohio State fired O'Brien for doing a good thing.
"Ohio State panicked, it panicked about the possibility of
facing the NCAA," he said. "It rushed to judgment."