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ON STALKING THE ELUSIVE CEDRIC HENDERSON
Cedric Henderson, Georgia's 6'8" freshman basketball star, gets around. As a youngster, he lived at various times with his mother, his sister and several foster families. "Cedric had a rough time of it," a friend recalls. "He was jerked from pillar to post." Henderson's basketball prowess only contributed to the instability of his life. As an eighth-grader in Lithia Springs, Ga., he was recruited by a high school coach in Jefferson City, Tenn. who became his foster father. But he soon encountered eligibility problems at the Tennessee school and transferred to Marietta (Ga.) High.
Once he became a hot college prospect, Henderson really swung into motion. In order, he orally committed himself to play his college ball at Louisville, signed with Georgia, dropped out of Marietta High, signed with Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, attended an alternative high school in Atlanta, made noises (again) about going to Louisville, took part in an international-studies program in Jamaica, settled into a Carson-Newman dorm, moved out after it was discovered he'd never graduated from high school, belatedly received a diploma from the Atlanta alternative school and, finally, enrolled at Georgia. Along the way, Henderson left a trail of rumors that college recruiters were encouraging his peregrinations with improper inducements.
Henderson may be a moving target, but that hasn't prevented the NCAA from training its sights on him and the school that won the battle for his services. Last month the NCAA put Georgia's football program on probation because of recruiting violations. Now the NCAA is accusing the Bulldog basketball program of 27 recruiting infractions—most of them involving Henderson. The NCAA's basketball investigation began while Henderson was still attending Marietta High, and sources familiar with the case say he changed his story to the NCAA almost as fast as he did his mailing address. After at first denying knowledge of any violations, Henderson began accusing Georgia of considerable wrongdoing—this apparently while he was leaning toward Louisville. But then, having returned to the Georgia fold, he again disavowed knowledge of any improprieties.
The NCAA evidently thinks Henderson was telling the truth when he accused Georgia of transgressions. According to one source, Henderson told investigators that a Georgia coach repeatedly left envelopes containing money for him at Atlanta-area hotels. The source says Henderson also told them he was visited more than 20 times by Georgia recruiters; six "contacts" are permitted under NCAA rules. But Henderson's mother, Bessie, says her son implicated Georgia merely "to get [the NCAA] off his back." She complains that an NCAA investigator bombarded her with "strange questions"—on one occasion in a I a.m. phone conversation. Henderson's coach at Marietta High, Charlie Hood, says he heard an NCAA operative warn Cedric, then in high school, that he could forfeit his college eligibility if he lied to the NCAA. In fact, high school athletes are under no obligation to cooperate with NCAA investigators.
The long arm of the NCAA has also touched two coaches of an Atlanta-area AAU Junior Olympic team on which Henderson played. The coaches, Johnny Williams and Joe Curry, both of whom were interviewed by NCAA investigators, told SI that they spent more than $1,000 on Henderson—a figure that includes the gift of a used Dodge Charger worth $700, clothes and tuition payments to summer school and a University of Georgia basketball camp. They also said they let Henderson use two other cars and a pickup truck. The NCAA apparently considers Williams and Curry to be "representatives" of Georgia's "athletics interests"—terminology that covers boosters as well as school staffers—but the two coaches denied acting on behalf of Georgia.
As of Sunday, Georgia had a 17-6 record and Henderson was its leading scorer with a 15-points-per-game average. Although Henderson has lately confined his movements to the court, his case keeps stirring up new recriminations. One source says that other schools may be implicated in wrongdoing in recruiting him. The case also raises questions about the head-spinning attention lavished on outstanding young athletes. How can such attention possibly do a youth like Henderson any good? And how do the adults who shamelessly fawn on those athletes justify their actions? In explaining why he and Williams provided Henderson with free cars—which, incidentally, could be a violation of AAU and Junior Olympic rules—Curry said, "We know that every kid wants a car. Athletes, especially, because you know [they feel], 'Here we are, king of the hill—but we're walking.' That's kind of embarrassing for them."
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