UNLV won what remains its only NCAA men’s basketball title in 1990 with a 103-73 victory over Duke. In the immediate aftermath, several of the Rebels celebrated with coach Jerry Tarkanian, and a few others went to accept congratulations from Sonny Vaccaro.
This drew a smile from me, even though I wasn’t quite sure how the relationship worked between Vaccaro, Nike’s connection to college coaches, and the players.
Vaccaro, 78, now retired and living in Southern California, was asked by ESPN’s Mike Fish how long the financial scams revealed in last week’s FBI indictment have existed.
“I think forever … [not] as organized as this thing,” Vaccaro said. “You and I wouldn’t have been talking about financial advisers in the 1990s. And agents really weren’t in vogue. … There were schools involved. You got new players [financial advisers, agents] now and they have the money.”
Mark Klingsporn, currently the coach at Tartan High School, and Larry Ronglein started this area’s first AAU team in 1989: Minnesota Selects. The first time I watched them was in 1993, with Sam Jacobson as the star.
“There was already this stuff going on when we started,” Klingsporn said. “Nike was making the deals, but the perception was we were a bunch of hicks in Minnesota who couldn’t play basketball.”
Klingsporn was told in the mid-’90s that if he wanted a high-profile player for the Selects, arrangements must be made to cover the family’s expenses for national tournaments. He declined.
Klingsporn stopped running his AAU team in 1998. The primary teams that compete nationally now are Howard Pulley (Nike’s EYBL program), E-1 Minnesota (Adidas) and Net Gain (Under Armour).
Vaccaro compared the FBI’s work in this investigation with Abscam, the infamous sting operation of Congressmen in the late 1970s.
“They all fell for the old fake money trick,” Vaccaro said. “The guy [the wired informant] was in the room. [Adidas] had somebody that turned on them.”
So far, the FBI only has Adidas clients and schools. Louisville had become Adidas’ No. 1 school after UCLA switched to Under Armour. If the FBI also has had an inside person in Nike deals, that’s when the fun truly will start.
PATRICK'S PLUS THREE
More on college hoops:
• Glad I lived long enough to read Sid Hartman quoting a player branded “Jelly Fam” and stating Gophers basketball “is going to be lit.”
• Adidas signed a $160 million contract extension with Lousiville, and also hired athletic director Tom Jurich’s daughter Haley Marie, 26, as “brand communication manager.” Tom’s now gone, with coach Rick Pitino.
• Prediction: The Gophers will win the Big Ten regular season, then become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16. It has to happen sometime; why not us?
Read Patrick Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.