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Charles P. Pierce
December 16, 1991
Who knows what evil lurks in college hoops? Rob Johnson does, and that's what scares so many coaches
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December 16, 1991

The Shadow

Who knows what evil lurks in college hoops? Rob Johnson does, and that's what scares so many coaches

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For the record, Boeheim describes Johnson only as "someone I know."

"I've known him for 15 years," the coach says. "He may or may not advise kids. Kids go wherever they feel they should go. I don't think they listen to that."

But they do, especially kids from dysfunctional families. The recruiting process can be overwhelming, even for a Wally Cleaver, let alone for a kid with little or no guidance in his daily life. Many coaches believe, with some justification, that the problem of street agents can't be solved until the underlying social conditions that allow them to flourish are at least addressed. "Until then," says one, "people like Rob are a symptom, but they're not the disease."

Having Johnson as an adviser can be a mixed blessing. Certainly it did no harm to Fleming, who was Johnson's protégé beginning in junior high school. Waldron graduated from Syracuse in 1984 and is playing in Europe. But Johnson's dizzying world has proved confusing for young players on more than one occasion, and it has at times overwhelmed them. Such was likely the case with Tony Scott.

In the summer of 1987, before his senior year at East High in Rochester, Scott played in the Youth East tournament in Syracuse. He played well and was one of the surprise stars of the tournament. The trappings of the game hadn't yet caught up to his talent, however, and Scott was wearing boxers under his basketball shorts. He went back to the bench after one game, and Johnson was waiting for him. "He says to me," Scott recalls, " 'You know, that's not too classy for a guy with your talent.' "

The college recruiting began in earnest that fall. At about that time Johnson began going to practices at East High, much to the dismay of coach Sal Rizzo. "I thought the guy was bad news," Rizzo says. For a long time Scott seemed to be ready to attend Connecticut. To everyone's surprise, he changed his mind just before the signing date. He would go to Syracuse instead.

He spent two years there, but found that playing time was sparse. He decided to transfer at the end of the 1989-90 season. "I talked with Rob," Scott says. "I told him I wanted to go to Fordham, but Rob didn't like that. He said he'd spread the word."

They heard about Scott all the way down in College Station. Seeking to rebuild its dormant basketball program, Texas A&M had fired longtime coach Shelby Metcalf and brought in Davis, a tyro who had done wonders at Idaho. Seeking to build quickly, Davis went trolling for transfers. Davis connected with Johnson, who promised to deliver Scott as well as David Edwards, a Brooklyn guard who had dropped out of Georgetown and is now at A&M.

According to the A&M report, in May 1990 Davis, who refused to be interviewed for this story, paid for Johnson and Scott to fly to A&M for a visit. They flew the last leg of the journey, from Houston to College Station, in the university's private jet. Davis paid for Johnson's lodging in College Station as well as for his meals and entertainment. The fig leaf for Johnson's presence during Scott's visit was that Johnson was interviewing for a graduate assistant's job on Davis's staff, something of a neat trick inasmuch as Johnson concedes that he has never graduated from college.

Johnson went back to A&M in June 1990, according to the report, to work at Davis's summer camp. Davis paid $435 to fly Johnson to Texas, and he paid $195 for Johnson's room and board. None of the other counselors was reimbursed for any transportation costs.

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