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UMass basketball tries to push beyond Camby affair

May 14, 1997 GMT

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) _ Looking ahead to the next wave of recruiting, University of Massachusetts officials are working hard to nudge their basketball program past the Marcus Camby scandal.

They acknowledge that it already hurt recruiting over the last year and that the latest publicity can only further damage the program’s reputation. Some of the current players are also disheartened.

``You certainly look at the publicity nationally, and there’s no way ... that is a plus,″ athletic director Bob Marcum said Wednesday. ``I don’t know what else we can do but continue to keep trying to do a good job and hope the message gets through.″

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Coach James ``Bruiser″ Flint said he is relieved the NCAA has not curtailed recruiting, scholarships or the university’s right to compete. The last two issues, Flint says, are paramount in recruiting prospects.

University officials stressed _ and the NCAA agrees _ that they had no way of knowing that Camby, who would be named national player of the year, accepted gifts from a sports agent trying to woo him as a client. They point out that the problem of unscrupulous agents goes far beyond this campus.

However, the NCAA last Thursday stripped the university of its 1996 tournament record, including its only Final Four appearance. NCAA officials decided Camby ruined his amateur status by accepting gifts, and he was thus ineligible to play. The university’s best-ever season, 35-2, was whittled to 31-1.

Camby has said he made a mistake in judgment, apologized, and vowed to repay the $151,000 in tournament revenue the NCAA ordered the university to return. Camby can likely afford to do that with the $8.4 million, three-year contract he signed with the Toronto Raptors after he was picked second in the 1996 NBA draft.

But campus officials have more to ponder than money. Flint said recruiting was somewhat more difficult last year after the Camby story broke and John Calipari left to coach the NBA’s New Jersey Nets.

``Our recruiting was a little slow in the beginning because of people wanting to see what would happen with the Camby situation and how I would do in my first year,″ he said.

The team went 19-14 last season. losing to Louisville in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Massachusetts was nevertheless able to snag some strong college prospects for next season, including Ronell Blizzard, of Waterbury, Conn.; Rafael Cruz, of Wheeling, W.Va.; and Jonathan DePina, of Boston. Tyrone Weeks, a stocky senior who was ineligible to play in his freshman year, is also planning to return and is expected to be a team leader.

Still, Flint said some of his players are ``discouraged″ by the loss of the 1996 tournament record.

``They worked so hard; we knew we were there,″ he said. ``I hope it’s out of their system, so we can get back to the Final Four.″

He is getting ready for an intense time of recruiting in July during a series of summer tournaments for high school players. He voiced optimism that the Camby affair won’t act as a significant drag on those efforts.

``Over time, people seem to forget,″ he said.

Recruiters on the academic side are also hopeful, saying they don’t believe the Camby affair will stifle their recruiting.

Kay Scanlan, a spokeswoman for the administration, said graduating seniors ``might know UMass based on the team, but they don’t make their decision based on the team.″ She said academics and finances are the key factors.

As Massachusetts basketball turned into a national power under Calipari after years as a poor program, academic applications crept upward. Since 1994, they are up 12 percent to 18,000, which is the projected final count for the fall.