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."
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
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
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.