All things considered, Tuesday must have been one of the weirdest days in a long time for Georgia Tech basketball.
Josh Pastner & co. are about 13 time zones away in China to play UCLA and Tuesday morning, CBS’s Gary Parrish dropped this stink bomb, with a (presumably now former) friend of Pastner’s named Ron Bell saying that he was fully aware of illegal (according to the NCAA) payments to his players.
He documented the money he gave to Josh Okogie and Tadrick Jackson and provided pictures of them at his Arizona pool. He showed receipts for air travel, clothes and shoes and text and phone records.
He further accused Pastner of giving him money to give to the players.
Things get a little stranger and murkier after that.
First, and we can’t say this enough, what an ungrateful bastard he is. He says that Pastner helped him control his drug addiction, arguably saving his life.
And this is how he repays a man who went out of his way to help a junkie? We’re not saying anything about Pastner here in a broader sense. Like most people, we’re sure he has admirable qualities and some he’s not as proud of. Human nature is human nature. None of us get off scot free.
But for Ron Bell, he saved that guy’s life and this is the thanks he gets?
His reasons are even stupider. He felt disrespected, he had an argument with a member of Pastner’s staff and felt like Pastner took her side, Pastner didn’t send him a birthday card.
And he told Parrish this: "I just started to realize [Pastner] is not a friend. I told him 'I hold your career in my hands. You're going to show me respect.' ... I said, 'I've been protecting you for two years. And if you don't watch yourself, if I start self-reporting, you're going to be coaching high school basketball.' And he said, 'Are you threatening me?' And I remember it like it was yesterday. I said, 'Josh, I don't make threats. Everything I say I'm going to do, I do it.'"
This of course overlooks that when Pastner held his life in his hands, he could have written him off as a worthless junkie and tossed him aside.
At some point during the late morning or early afternoon, Pastner found out that the Chinese police had detained three of his players in a shoplifting probe. They were ultimately cleared and released but this is serious business. American law doesn’t apply in China and the three UCLA kids accused - Cody Riley, Jalen Hill and one LiAngelo Ball - are in serious trouble. They could be detained for some time, without bail, and Chinese prosecutors lose less often than the house in Vegas.
LiAngelo’s father, LaVar, was quoted as saying it’s no big deal, but his child is being held in a foreign country and faces up to ten years in prison.
Ipso facto, it’s a big deal. Ball is just showing, again, that he’s really not on the ball.
So put yourself in Pastner’s shoes. He’s abroad, he knows a hit piece is coming in the evening (his time) and by mid-day he has three kids being held by 20 PRC police and he can’t even go in the room.
It’s China. No lawyers, no coaches, not even the random idiot father is allowed in the room.
Almost two dozen cops have his kids on suspicion and Parrish’s piece is coming.
What a total nightmare.
As for the UCLA kids: one hopes, fervently, that it’s not true. We expect UCLA will call Gov. Jerry Brown and powerful senator Sen. Dianne Feinstein and they will pressure the state department to resolve the situation.
There’s only one thing that could go wrong, one wildcard, and that’s the big mouth of LaVar Ball.
We have no doubt that he loves his kids and that he’s doing what he thinks is best for them and in fairness, his mouth has helped build a huge buzz around his nascent shoe company.
However, he’s been unpredictable and frequently said foolish things, like that he could have taken Michael Jordan and various other bits of idiocy. He’s pissed off as many people as he’s made laugh.
Thing is, his schtick won’t fly in China. If he starts running his mouth and staying stupid things, he’s could really screw his own child and two other kids as well.
We sincerely hope that this time, for once, he just shuts the hell up.
Update - the three players have been released on bond and confined to the hotel. That’s a major concession. Also we forgot to mention that this is part of the PAC-12’s Asian outreach efforts (they regularly schedule football and basketball games in Asia, mostly China, in an effort to establish new media beachheads).
PAC-12 Commissioner Larry Scott issued this statement: "We are very disappointed by any situation that detracts from the positive student-athlete educational and cultural experience that this week is about," Scott said. "Whether in the United States or abroad, we expect our student-athletes to uphold the highest standards. We will continue to closely monitor the situation."
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