Seton Hall basketball: An expert’s advice on handling Isaiah Whitehead mess
Every now and then, you hear the phrase from an old-timer who still associates Seton Hall basketball with a 1961 point-shaving scandal.
That disgrace scarred the athletic department’s reputation for a generation.
Friday’s revelation by Yahoo Sports, that an unscrupulous agent listed former Pirate star Isaiah Whitehead on his payroll before the guard turned pro, is a far cry from throwing games. But it could leave a nasty stain. Exactly how nasty depends, in part, on how the university proceeds from here.
Bob Zito knows the deal. The seasoned public relations executive is managing partner of the Warren-based firm IPZ, which provides “strategic and tactical solutions” for professional athletes, media talent and entertainers. Among his past credentials: helping to build the New York Stock Exchange’s brand.
Gannett New Jersey asked Zito how he would advise Seton Hall, Whitehead and the NCAA as the FBI’s investigation into recruiting practices continues to rock college basketball.
“One of the big things in any situation like this — whether you’re a college, a basketball team or a Fortune 500 company — transparency is so important,” Zito said. “There are hundreds of (reporters) out there who will find someone to talk to them. You have to be transparent so no one can shoot at it. You can’t hide anything anymore.”
Seton Hall issued the following statement Friday afternoon: “We are aware of the Yahoo! Sports report. We have taken steps proactively to reach out to the NCAA and the BIG EAST Conference, and while we have not been contacted by investigators, we will be conducting our own internal review.”
Zito praised the statement as a good start. Fact-gathering always should be the first step.
“What Seton Hall has done so far is the exact right thing,” he said. “No. 1, you have to do your own internal review. That internal review has to be done by someone who is independent, but someone who knows what’s going on (in the sport).”
By independent, Zito means an investigator “who is not affiliated with the university,” he said. “That would be smart for Seton Hall.”
Speaking generally about someone in Whitehead’s position, Zito recommends telling the truth about agent relationships and letting the public assess a broken system.
“It’s, ‘Here’s what I did when I was 15, 16 years old, because that probably is the age when it starts,’” he said. “But he’s probably going to have to throw someone under the bus to do that, because my guess is it probably wasn’t his idea.”
So, expose whose idea it was.
“Young basketball players, people realize these kids are going to make money and latch onto them, give them bad counsel and steer them one way or another, and it’s just an ugly thing,” he said.
As for the NCAA, Zito recommends admitting failure as a starting point.
“Anybody involved in college basketball, quietly you know this stuff is going on, how it works,” he said. “The NCAA has turned a deaf ear to it.”
Each of his suggestions has a common thread: Transparency. That’s the first step toward earning public trust. As Seton Hall learned decades ago, that trust can be hard to regain.
FOUR NAGGING QUESTIONS
Here are four questions hanging over the program as the FBI investigation and Seton Hall’s internal probe unfold.
1. Did anyone employed by Seton Hall play a part in arranging for Whitehead to receive money from the agency ASM Sports?
2. Is there documentation that Hall head coach Kevin Willard knew about Whitehead’s ties to ASM while he was a student?
3. Did former assistant coach Tiny Morton’s reported $9,500 loan from ASM take place during his one season on the Pirates’ staff (2014-15)?
4. What impact, if any, does this have on the morale and focus of the current Hall team as it pursues a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance, especially given the seniors’ continued friendship with Whitehead?
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