LA JOLLA, CALIF. – Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng has watched from afar these past two days while the second scandal in the past three years rocked his alma mater and likely cost his former college coach, the University of Louisville’s Rick Pitino, his job Wednesday.
Dieng played three seasons for Pitino and won the 2013 NCAA title with him before Dieng declared for the NBA draft after his junior season.
“Yeah, I’ve seen it,” Dieng said after a training-camp practice Wednesday. “But coaches, you know, get hired to be fired. So I hope Coach P would not be in something like this. But you know, it is what it is.”
Pitino kept his job after two separate sex scandals — one in 2009, the other in 2015 — rocked his program within six years. But he was placed on unpaid administrative leave — a step toward his firing — with a college-basketball bribery scandal allegedly involving shoe company Adidas and six-figure payments to recruits brewing.
After a three-year FBI investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York on Tuesday announced federal corruption charges against four assistant coaches from other universities. Louisville’s interim president confirmed his school was implicated in a separate set of charges involving payments from Adidas to recruits.
Dieng said Tuesday’s charges and past Louisville men’s basketball scandals don’t diminish what he and his teammates accomplished in a winning that championship in 2013.
“Not at all,” he said. “I don’t think so. It doesn’t have anything to winning the title. Things happen. It happens. I’m sure Coach P wasn’t aware of it. All he taught us was to be respectful, work hard and be disciplined. I was surprised when I saw it coming but you can’t control everyone.”
For the better?
The U.S. Attorney’s Office Tuesday announcement likely is just the beginning of a scandal that also could rock NCAA men’s basketball to its core nationwide.
“I think at the end of it all, it’s going to be a good thing,” said Wolves veteran center Cole Aldrich, who played collegiately at Kansas. “I think the NCAA is going to look and say, ‘What ways can we actually figure all of this craziness out?’ I think over the last number of years, you have the subject, ‘Do guys need to get paid or do this or do that?’ and the eligibility rules of all this. Now you find out some guys are getting paid under the table and behind doors and through shoe deals and all that stuff.
“I think when the smoke clears, I think college basketball will be better.”
In San Diego to recruit a big man, Nevada coach Eric Musselman stopped by practice Wednesday at UC-San Diego to chat with Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau before practice and pose for a photo with him afterward. Musselman’s father, Bill, hired Thibodeau for his first NBA job and Thibodeau and Eric Musselman were assistant coaches together for the Wolves’ second season, in 1990-91.
“It was great to see him,” Thibodeau said. “He has done a phenomenal job at Nevada. We stay in touch. He watches our games. We talk. I try to watch his whenever I can. It’s a small community when you really think about it. There are a lot of connections along the line.”
•Forward Nemanja Bjelica didn’t practice Wednesday because he had returned home to Minnesota for the birth of his second child. He is expected to rejoin the team in the next day or two.
•Young star Andrew Wiggins hasn’t signed that maximum five-year, $148 million contract, but he has until the day before the NBA regular season starts to do so. Asked if there have been delays, Thibodeau said, “Not really. It’s all positive. I’m optimistic it will get done.”
•Thibodeau expects injured rookie center Justin Patton to miss most of the preseason, but said he is doing more work before practice as the days pass. “So that’s a good sign,” Thibodeau said.