Sports Beat, 5-14-08

--The Lakers earned a crucial Game 5 victory tonight to maintain their home-court advantage over the Utah Jazz.

Kobe Bryant was clearly limited by his back injury, but he toughed it out, and played a valuable role as a facilitator. Bryant scored 26 points, but only attempted 10 shots. Five Laker players scored in double figures, including Lamar Odom (22), Pau Gasol (21), and Vladimir Radmanovic (15). Overall, it was a sloppy game, but credit the Lakers for forcing the Jazz to speed up their offense which led to 18 turnovers.

Now the series shifts to Utah, where the Lakers will have to hope that Bryant's back is just a bit better. The Lakers are at their best when everyone is involved. But they can't beat Utah if Bryant isn't at least 80-percent. Also, the Laker bench needs to step up, as it only scored 13 points tonight.

--I have no idea whether or not the allegations about OJ Mayo receiving money from an agent are true. If they are though, then I do believe it's a greater NCAA problem rather than a USC problem.

Based on everything I've read, it seems highly unlikely that USC or Tim Floyd knew or participated in any of the activity that has been alleged about Mayo. And while this is a player who has been showered with attention since the age of 13, he was cleared to play by both the NCAA and the Pac-10. This isn't a situation in which USC was sending out boosters or paying its own recruits and players under the table. In fact, it is widely known that Mayo was never recruited by USC, and that he had effectively decided to be a Trojan before even speaking with Tim Floyd.

ESPN's Pat Forde's column claiming that USC should receive an SMU-style death penalty is absurd. In that case, SMU was already on probation and the university and its boosters were actively funneling money to football players. In the cases of Mayo and Reggie Bush, the allegations are related to slimey grease-ball agents who appear to be operating outside the sphere of the university in trying to take advantage of impressionable young athletes. Also somewhat absurd is that idea that Tim Floyd should be going into Mayo's dorm room, finding out whether or not he has a flat screen TV, and then questioning him on where he got it. Dorm rooms usually aren't a place that coaches, professors, or any college authority figure besides an RA are ever welcome.

Clearly though this is a stain on the university. But I'm not sure what more USC and other colleges can truly do to prevent this type of contact with agents. Pete Carroll has been known to throw agents out of Heritage Hall in the event that they dare try to lurk around campus. All teams lecture their student-athletes about NCAA rules pertaining to agents. And all players have to go through a rigorous approval process through the NCAA clearing house. But at the end of the day, it's still theoretically possible for a one-and-done basketball player to take money under the table from an agent, to not have it discovered until after he's gone, and then for that individual player to face zero consequences once he's a professional.

There are a few things that can curtail this problem. In the NFL, Pete Carroll has already lobbied NFL Players Association Head Gene Upshaw to punish agents who knowingly break NCAA rules. Likewise, now that the NBA has an age minimum, the league or the players' union should also work to decertify or suspend agents who give money to college students. Based on the account of former Fresno State guard Tito Maddux, it sounds like Rodney Guillory is one such individual who should not be allowed to represent any NBA prospects.

There are two other more radical ideas could be considered. On one end, the NFL and NBA could consider suspending and/or fining players who take money from agents while they're still amateurs. That way they will actually face consequences for violating the rules after they've left their school. Another option could be for the NCAA to simply allow players to hire agents. An agent is effectively a representative, and why can't a legal adult hire someone to represent them? I've always wondered if NCAA rules prohibiting the hiring of agents could stand up in court, if those rules were ever challenged.

In the meantime, USC's top incoming basketball recruit DeMar DeRozan may ask out of his scholarship if the Trojans are punished in the Mayo incident. I don't think DeRozan has much to worry about though. First off, these investigations typically take years, and it would be surprising if this were completely settled before DeRozan leaves for the NBA. Secondly, it is going to be very difficult to prove that USC knew about Mayo's dealings with the agent. If wrongdoing by Mayo is proved, then in all likelihood the Trojans would have to forfeit all of their wins from this past season, and may be penalized a scholarship or two. But a postseason ban (which it appears is most concerning to DeRozan) seems highly unlikely. At least that's the view of where things stand at the moment. It could all change.

--Across town, UCLA's basketball team is about to receive a boost from J'Mison "Bobo" Morgan, who had initially committed to LSU, but now appears Westwood-bound after LSU's recent coaching change. Morgan adds some much-needed size and strength to a Bruin front-line that will likely be without Evan Love and could be missing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute as well. Many recruiting analysts claim that UCLA already has the best class in the nation coming in, and this addition will only help.

--The Dodgers got a much-needed victory tonight over the MIlwaukee Brewers thanks to a 3-run ninth inning against former Dodger reliever Guillermo Mota. Since I wrote that the Dodger fans shouldn't be concerned so early in the season, the team lost six in a row before tonight's game, and are now just one game above .500.

It's rather astonishing to see how different the Dodgers are offensively without Rafael Furcal, and that's a bad sign. No team should ever be so dependent on one player. But Furcal's absence hasn't been the team's only problem. The "vets" are letting down the Dodgers. Jeff Kent is starting to look his age. Andruw Jones is still hitting well-below his Atlanta Braves weight and now is further embarrassing himself by telling TJ Simers that he doesn't play for the fans. And established pitchers Brad Penny and Derek Lowe have struggled in recent weeks. In fact, the entire Dodgers rotation has been down this year, and the bullpen already seems overworked.

The Dodgers still have the talent to be a playoff team. But they've been a streaky team throughout the Ned Colletti era, and they need to play more consistent baseball in order to realize their potential. I think it's possible that Joe Torre's guidance can keep the Dodgers focused, but it may not happen overnight.

--I'm going to China for the next two weeks, and I'm hoping that I'll be able to keep up with Laker playoff games and such while I'm in Shanghai and Beijing. That being said, the sports beat will take a break for a bit, but it should be back shortly after Memorial Day.

May 14, 2008 9:10 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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