He is Bobby Lee Hurt and 300 college basketball recruiters ago he was the State of Alabama's No. 1 commodity. Cotton was second.
Everyone looked at his numbers and the sheer immensity and productivity they represented. First, there was the size: 6 foot 9 1/2, 242 pounds. Then, the statistics: 20.2 points a game, 13.3 rebounds and 69 percent shooting.
"And remember, he only played about half of every game," said Jerry Rice, Hurt's coach at Butler High School in Huntsville. Butler compiled a 33-3 record and finished second in the state tournament; Hurt, who was named to several high school all-America teams, was most valuable player of that tournament.
Then the cheering stopped.
The Birmingham Post-Herald published stories that alleged Hurt had been paid to play at Butler after he had threatened to transfer to another school and that he had signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Alabama because he was under financial pressure from an Alabama fan to do so.
Now, there were new numbers to consider. The Post-Herald reported that Hurt had received varying amounts of cash -- between $5 and $50 -- from vending machines at Butler at various times over the last two years. The paper also reported that $1,100 was taken from home basketball game receipts to pay dental fees for Hurt.
And, finally, the paper reported that Hurt had cosigned a $500 to $600 automobile loan with Cotton Johnson, the Alabama fan, and was told by Johnson that if he didn't sign a letter of intent with Alabama, he would have to repay that loan plus an additional $3,400 he owed Johnson.
Both of Hurt's parents have grade-school educations. His father, John, told the Post-Herald, "Most of the time, I find out what Bobby Lee is doing on TV. . . Bobby doesn't tell me too much."
Hurt, in New York City where he is being honored for his achievements in high school athletics, would say only, "I don't want to talk about it. It's all over now. It's taken care of. . . I'm glad to be up here away from it all."
In Hurt's hometown of Huntsville, investigations by the NCAA, the Madison County (Ala.) district attorney's office and the Alabama High School Athletic Association have taken place or are ongoing. Previous investigations were made by the Southeastern Conference and the University of Alabama, which won Hurt's services in a recruiting contest that included the University of Maryland.
No illegalities have been proven. There have been a number of allegations, denials and "no comments" in the past several weeks in what is becoming one of the major recruiting controversies of 1981.
It has been alleged that one man who gave Hurt money was Ed Seal, Butler principal. Seal left Huntsville to accept a job in the Lewisville, Tex., school system last week, but returned, he said, to clear himself of the allegations. He would not comment on the allegations when reached yesterday, saying, "My attorney has advised me that we should not be carrying out a trial through the press."
Nor were comments forthcoming from Johnson, the Alabama fan and the owner of Alabama Welding and Battery. Johnson, who drives the team bus for the Butler basketball team, said: "I've got all day to talk, but I ain't talking. Newspapers have made some false allegations and you can go out and make some more."
Hurt, who had a B average in high school, had wanted to announce his choice of colleges in December, but, even after narrowing his choices to six, had trouble making a final decision. His original "final" six were Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Louisville, Indiana and Ohio State. Later, he eliminated Indiana and North Carolina and added South Alabama and Hawaii.
He then narrowed his selections to Alabama, Hawaii and Maryland, but still had trouble making a decision, canceling press conferences on April 24 and 27 at which he was scheduled to make his announcement.
"This kid had not really had to make a major decision his whole life," said Rice. "This was a very difficult thing for him."
Then, on April 30, he was ready -- but, apparently, still confused.
"I was at the Holiday Inn in Huntsville and they paged me an hour before the press conference," said Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell. "It was Bobby Lee.
"I said, 'Are you going to Maryland?' He said, 'I'm not 100 percent sure?' I told him that we would fight the whole state of Alabama together. But he wouldn't commit himself," said Driesell.
Tom Abatemarco, Driesell's assistant who since has become an assistant coach at Virginia Tech, was there, also.
"It was a circus down there," he said. "It just got crazier by the day. When Bobby Lee called, he was excited and we thought we had him."
Riley Wallace is an asistant to Coach Larry Little at the University of Hawaii. He, too, thought his school had Hurt.
"I think if it weren't for Coach Rice, Bobby Lee would be in Hawaii. Bobby Lee told us over the phone in that last week that he wanted to come to Hawaii. He told me to go to Coach Rice's office and he would sign. So we left the letter (of intent) at his office, since we had no visits left. Bobby Lee went in to sign and the coach (Rice) told him he (Hurt) hadn't put in enough thought.
"So he went in to sign with Hawaii and came out thinking Alabama," Wallace said.
Rice responded simply, "I didn't give him any advice and that may have been a mistake."
Abatemarco said he's positive he and Driesell were followed while in Huntsville last April.
"There were definitely people following us, hanging out by our hotel room. There was a pickup truck, a blue Buick and a white car. Coach (Driesell) thought I was crazy. So just to check it out I drove over past Bobby Lee's house and back and, sure enough, they followed."
Said Wallace: "There was definitely someone following us, too. I think it was a friend of Cotton Johnson. At least, that's what I'm told. The pickup truck was there, too. He (the man in the truck) was a young guy, in his early 20s.
"The school's athletic director (at Butler) told me that on the morning he (Hurt) signed, they put three letters of intent in front of Bobby Lee," Wallace said. "They were from Hawaii, Alabama and Maryland. He said Bobby Lee came in and said that maybe he would sign all three."
All of the coaches were all impressed with Hurt.
"He's a great kid. And I'll tell you, he never had his hand out to me, said Abatemarco. "He really liked our place. He talked with everybody, loved to dance."
"He fell in love with our place," said Wallace, "There is no question he wanted to come to Hawaii."
"They are only allegations and it doesn't worry me," said Wimp Sanderson, Alabama basketball coach. "I don't feel Butler High did anything wrong and I know we didn't. We already had an (inhouse) investigation here. We didn't do anything wrong."
Post-Herald reporter Paul Finebaum interviewed Hurt at 1:54 a.m. the day he would sign with Alabama. The interview was held several miles outside of Huntsville, according to Finebaum, because Hurt wanted to be free from outside pressures. At the meeting, Finebaum said, Hurt told him, "Cotton said I would have to pay back the loan if I don't go to Alabama. It's not the greatest place."
At his press conference 10 hours later, Hurt signed with Alabama and said, "That's the place I thought I should be."
Hurt later denied the early morning quotes, but not the meeting. " didn't tell those writers any of that stuff. It's not true. I believe I was set up. I talked with them for about 15 minutes but it wasn't anything about what they wrote," Hurt said.