Another Shoe in the Door
Did you notice the new variety of preseason warmup act that has emerged in college basketball? Club teams coached or managed by men with ties to AAU teams and to sneaker companies dotted the fall exhibition schedules of big-name teams.
The most prominent of the clubs were the California All-Stars and the Converse All-Stars. The former is managed by brothers David and Dana Pump, whose Los Angeles-based summer teams, known as Pump 'n' Run I and II, are AAU powers. David is a consultant to Adidas, and both brothers have close ties to Adidas executive Sonny Vaccarro. David's main duty for the shoe company, he says, is organizing summer events that feature high school players. The Syracuse-based Converse All-Stars are coached by Mickey Walker, who has long been a presence—as a coach, talent broker and team manager—on the upstate New York AAU scene.
Because AAU coaches are so influential in the lives of the blue-chippers who play for them in the summer, both the Pumps and Walker are in a position to inveigle college coaches into scheduling games against them. They could say, "Play us and pay us a guarantee of as much as $10,000, or we won't send our top AAU kids your way." While David Pump says, "We don't have a say in where kids go [to college]," Walker may be more candid. "It's not so much whether an AAU coach can make a kid go to your school," says Walker. "But I might tell a kid not to go to you, and that's where the problem lies."
All involved deny using their influence to demand games. Says Walker, whose Converse All-Stars lost 128-74 to Duke on Nov. 1, "[Blue Devils coach] Mike Krzyzewski doesn't give a rat's ass if I get him a player. He wants his kids ready for the season, and he needs a good game from our club." That's probably true. But how about a coach from a school that doesn't have the recruiting wallop of Duke? "I'm not naive," says Walker. "I know that some college coaches might be intimidated by an influential AAU coach."
The sneaker companies provide the club teams with shoes and gear. They say they do not pay either the coaches or the players, who are ex-collegians, some of whom now perform in the CBA or foreign leagues. However, the companies' influence is evident. Fresno State, North Carolina State and Tennessee were among the Adidas-backed programs on the California All-Stars' schedule. Two Converse all-star teams, Walker's and the Stroudsburg, Pa., Converse World All-Stars, which include young international players, were mi .Arkansas's preseason schedule. Razorbacks coach Nolan Richardson—surprise!—has an endorsement contract with Converse. "If there's a foreign recruit we like, I get a chance to sec him play here," Richardson says. "We don't go overseas. They have to come to us over here." Once again there's the potential for abuse: Powerful coaches with big-money sneaker deals get to curry favor with top international talent.
The NCAA says it is aware of these strange preseason bedfellows but, at present, is not investigating. We submit that these arrangements are worth a long, hard look.
Paint It Red and Gold
According to one less-than-scientific theory making the rounds lately, the hopes of San Francisco 49ers fans this season may rest as much on the 54-year-old legs of one Mick Jagger as they do on the 36-year-old arm of quarterback Steve Young. The last three times the Rolling Stones went on a U.S. tour, in 1981, '89 and '94, the 49ers went on a tear, winning the Super Bowl the following January. So never mind San Francisco's 44-9 shellacking at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday (page 56). As Mick and the boys roll across the country performing in support of their latest album, Bridges to Babylon, the Niners (11-2) just might be on a bridge to Supe XXXII in San Diego.