CRAWFORD | Latest sex scandal the toughest yet for Louisville - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Latest sex scandal the toughest yet for Louisville

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Rick Pitino speaks to reporters about allegations in an upcoming book that a member of his staff paid escorts to have sex with recruits and players. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Rick Pitino speaks to reporters about allegations in an upcoming book that a member of his staff paid escorts to have sex with recruits and players. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — There was a time, I now can admit, when I was really good at writing book reports on books I had not read.

This is not the time for that. In evaluating the allegations soon to be brought forth in detail by a woman who says she was hired by former University of Louisville director of basketball operations Andre McGee to provide sexual services for men’s basketball recruits and players from 2010 to 2014, we can look at the smoke, we haven’t yet seen the fire.

But it smells like something is burning.

STORY | Louisville responds to allegations that staffer paid escorts to have sex with players

Indianapolis Business Journal’s publishing division did not respond to WDRB requests for an advance copy of Katina Powell’s upcoming book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen.” The self-described escort and stripper might have U of L, many of its players, and some of its coaches, dead to rights. It could be a dumpster fire for U of L. Or she might just have a lot of smoke.

She says McGee paid her upwards of $10,000 for 22 parties during which she and/or her friends would strip for and have sex with recruits and current players.

What we had beginning Friday afternoon was a trickle of sensational allegations, followed by a few national stories, and culminating in a hastily called University of Louisville press conference that wound up being picked up nationally by ESPN.

So much, we don’t know. Until we actually see the allegations and proof side by side, you don’t even know where to begin to look for truth. What we have is a start.

Here’s what I do know. That was no ordinary U of L news conference on Friday.

I’ve been around Rick Pitino a long time. I wrote his last book with him, in which he outlined in detail how he responded to a personal scandal. His general mode of operation with bad news is to be the one to break it. He’s out in front of it. He calls the press conference. He announces the suspension. He is the first voice you hear on the subject.

Today, the first voice was not Pitino. Not even close. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports broke the story nationally, after Indianapolis Business Journal published its own story on the book. Kenny Klein, the University of Louisville sports information director, told me that school officials had no idea this news would break Friday — even though compliance director John Carns and Chuck Smrt, a well-known consultant on NCAA compliance matters who had been hired by U of L to investigate these allegations in August, met with IBJ officials earlier on Friday.

Athletic director Tom Jurich even had flown to Raleigh, N.C., with the football team Friday morning, and had to take part in the 5:45 p.m. news conference by phone.

Once in front of the cameras, these were not openly defiant men. I sensed -- and this is just my opinion, more resignation than recrimination, though there was some of that, too. Among other things, Jurich said, “If we did anything wrong, we will ante up.”

Pitino standing behind a podium, said, “To say I’m disheartened, disappointed, would be one of the greatest understatements I’ve made as a coach.” He told reporters the allegations made him “sick to my stomach” and added, “my heart is really broken.”

Why feel those things if you don’t think there could be some truth to the allegations? Pitino said he still doesn’t know the full extent of the allegations, and does not believe what he has heard — based on conversations with 15 former assistant coaches, who he said all denied any knowledge of the kinds of things alleged in this book.

Still, he and Jurich both seemed to speak cautiously.

Scott Cox, a Louisville attorney hired by McGee recently, spoke passionately on McGee’s behalf.

No matter the words, none of it matters till we see the book. We need to see the pictures, the text messages, whatever other corroboration Powell says she has, and judge the events on their merits.

We know who the players were. We know who the recruits were. We’re going to know what her allegations are. Dates, names, whatever proof she offered. It’s going to come out.

I was reminded, when I heard the news on Friday, of a passage in Pitino’s book, “The One-Day Contract,” when he talked about a player getting in trouble for bringing a woman into Minardi Hall, the players’ on-campus residence, after hours in defiance of curfew.

“I remember one night a player letting a female into our dormitory and breaking curfew. Security cameras caught his actions. When confronted, his response was almost laughable. He said he heard a knock at the outside door (which was physically impossible), then came down the steps and checked the girl’s identification before letting her in the door. My look of disgust and disbelief gave away my feelings. I explained that if he had owned up to the truth, the punishment would’ve been physical training in the early morning hours. but now it would be worse. The lie would get worse as he watched more action on the surveillance tape. I tell our guys, when I was their age, there was no technology to tell if we sneaked out or broke curfew. But with technology today, you can’t do anything without everybody finding out within minutes.”

Jurich said he first found out in August when Louisville associate AD Kevin Miller was contacted by IU deputy AD Scott Dolson after Dolson had been approached by Indiana booster and IBJ owner and publisher Mickey Mauer looking for assistance from someone at U of L in identifying a picture.

Some referrals were sent, but as soon as Dolson found out the nature of the picture involved, he immediately alerted Klein about it and had nothing more to do with any of it. Klein told me Friday that U of L never was sent the picture, and to his knowledge that particular picture isn’t being used in the book.

Of Dolson, Klein told me, “He’s a great guy,” after the Louisville news conference Friday.

IU is just a bystander here. Fans will go crazy over the connection between Mauer and IU. It’s worth noting. As is the source of any news story.

But in the end, if IU were going to embark on a smear campaign, I doubt Louisville would be at the top of its list. And Indiana athletic director Fred Glass just doesn’t operate that way. Mauer’s publication, its history, and even its decision to pursue this project all will come under scrutiny. But that shouldn’t distract from the main issue of examining the work of any journalist — the veracity of what they have published.

Who talks in the book? What U of L players? What recruits? What women? The questions only multiply.

We’re just at the start. Beyond the smoke, what in this book is legitimate, and what isn’t?

This is how ugly, however, it will get. This is just one excerpt shared by IBJ:

“The only time I viewed it as being wrong is when I looked at the recruits’ faces when they were getting the sex,” Powell said. “It kind of made you feel bad that you have this young guy coming in to a college campus thinking he’s going to have a little fun, not knowing he’s going to have two or three girls on him at one time, he’s going to get alcohol, he’s going to get anything he wants or that they offer at that time.”

Powell describes in the book how one recruit was hustled out as his mother, not knowing what was going on, came to retrieve him.

After a couple of years providing strippers for the basketball players, Powell said in the book, she became irritated about increasing requests from McGee, the former University of Louisville basketball staffer.

In a journal entry, she wrote: “I promise I’m waiting for the right time to take these bastards down. … I just have to be smart and patient as well. At the right time, when I decide to tell my story, I will tell my story.”

What is her story, in detail? What went on? What did Pitino know? What did other assistant coaches know? What should they have known if they didn’t?

And what of the NCAA? U of L says it notified the NCAA as soon as it found out the allegations were coming. We know from the Miami case, what is alleged against a school and what the NCAA finally winds up punishing it for are two wildly different things.

Does it impact the legacy of the 2013 NCAA championship team or even the title itself? One would assume so, but we don’t know the extent. Does it impact Pitino’s legacy? One would assume so, but we don’t know the extent.

A time will come to make a determination, when the chapters open.

Right now we can only smell the smoke. Soon enough, we’ll be able to tell exactly what is burning.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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