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A Center Of Major Contention
Bill Brubaker
July 22, 1985
The prize in a bitter recruiting war, 7'1" Tito Horford says he will play basketball at Houston. Or will he?
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July 22, 1985

A Center Of Major Contention

The prize in a bitter recruiting war, 7'1" Tito Horford says he will play basketball at Houston. Or will he?

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It appears that college basketball recruiters can finally pack away their passports and Guayabera shirts. Alfredo (Tito) Horford, the 19-year-old 7'1", 245-pound center from the Dominican Republic, is going to play basketball at the University of Houston. Probably.

"Definitely," said Horford in Santo Domingo last week.

Maybe. The week before, he said it was "ninety-five percent that I go to UCLA."

With Horford, no one can really be sure. "The problem is," he says with a shrug, "I've just been confused. I've been very confused."

Confused? What red-blooded, shot-blocking, Americanized, heir apparent to Patrick Ewing wouldn't be confused in the climate of fast-break chicanery and full-court distrust in which U.S. college basketball recruiters operate? The ink on Horford's binding commitment letter to Houston had been dry for seven full months, and there was coach Dale Brown slipping into Santo Domingo a few weeks ago in hopes, unavailing as things turned out, of making one last hard sell for LSU. The Los Angeles Dodgers' Dominican-born coach. Manny Mota, was calling to pitch for UCLA. Meanwhile, Horford's mother. Ana Graciela Baltazar, was crying, "I do not want my son to go to Houston. They've lied to me!"

How valuable can Horford, who led Houston's Marian Christian High to three straight state championships, be to a college basketball team? So valuable that Houston assistant coach Donnie Schverak appears to have violated two NCAA rules in recruiting him. And in visiting Santo Domingo, Brown, who forever complains about cheaters ruining college athletics, was apparently prepared to violate an NCAA regulation prohibiting coaches from meeting with prospects during the summer as well as a rule that bars them from pursuing athletes who have already signed a national letter of intent.

After flying to the Dominican Republic, Brown spoke with Horford on the telephone, but a scheduled meeting between them didn't take place. Brown says he waited in his room at the Santo Domingo Sheraton but that Horford never showed. Though Horford was officially committed to Houston, he had requested the meeting with Brown, according to the coach, to discuss whether he could get a car for himself and bring his girl friend to Baton Rouge if he went to LSU. "He'd been offered cars by other schools." Brown says. "He flat came out and told me."

Brown says he never considered giving Horford a car or making an arrangement for his girl friend. For his part, Horford denies ever soliciting, or being offered, cars, cash or any other improper inducements to attend any school. But reports of big-money offers persist. Says Horford's Dominican summer league coach, Sergio Abreu, "One coach offered $180,000 over a three-year period plus a $1 million insurance policy." One major-college coach says that another coach "offered [Horford] $100,000 on the telephone. The kid told me that."

Brown left Santo Domingo, disgusted. "I'm almost shattered by the whole thing because, goddam, I think the system finally got to him," Brown said. "It makes me vomit because this is one hell of a beautiful damn kid, and he's just been Americanized as far as recruiting."

Horford grew up in San Pedro de Macoris, a town of 78,562 that has produced more present-day major league baseball players—15, at latest count—than any other city its size. In fact, before he discovered basketball, Horford was a pretty good pitcher. But when he grew to 6'10" at age 15, he went to Santo Domingo to learn basketball. In 1981, Darryl Brown, a former Houston player who was a member of the Naco athletic club team in the Dominican Basketball Federation, was impressed enough to tell Terry Kirkpatrick, then a Houston assistant coach, about Horford. Kirkpatrick, apparently wanting Horford to play his high school basketball in the Cougars' backyard, later relayed word about Horford to Bob Gallagher, a wealthy steel industry executive who, from 1982 until the end of last season, coached at Marian Christian and who, according to Kirkpatrick, often played pickup basketball on the Houston campus.

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