When he took the court in Albuquerque Friday night as Morgan State University's 6-foot-10 starting freshman center, Larry Hubbard was supposed to be making his debut as a college basketball player.
But University of New Mexico fans said he bore a striking resemblance to the Larry Hubbard who had played one game for the Lobos in 1979, before he was thrown out of school along with eight other players, in an academic scandal that resulted in the firing of coach Norm Ellenberger.
After playing a second game for Morgan State Sunday, against the University of Wisconsin, Hubbard was thrown off the team by Tom Dean, the basketball coach and athletic director. Yesterday, Morgan State officials still were wondering how Hubbard, 25, ended up on their team, even though his eligibility had expired under the NCAA's five-year rule since he attended a junior college in the 1978-79 season, seven seasons ago.
According to Dean, it was unclear whether Hubbard actually was registered at Morgan State or attended any classes. Calls to the registrar's office yesterday were referred to the office of the university's president, Earl F. Richardson, who was not available for comment.
Dean said that because Hubbard had received a GED (General Equivalency Diploma), and had not graduated from high school, he did not check on Hubbard's high school transcript. Hubbard listed Hardway High School in Flint, Mich., as his high school.
But there is no such school listed in the telephone directory there. At both Chipola (Fla.) Junior College and New Mexico, Hubbard listed his hometown as Columbus, Ga., and, according to the Chipola registrar's office, Hubbard graduated from Hardaway High in Columbus.
According to Dean, whose team was playing in Mobile, Ala., last night, Hubbard denied to him Friday night that he was the Hubbard who had played at New Mexico. When a reporter from the Albuquerque Tribune called Dean Sunday night in Madison, Wis., with additional facts about Hubbard, Dean again questioned Hubbard and, again, according to Dean, Hubbard denied it. But Dean dismissed Hubbard from the team and sent him home.
Asked what explanation Hubbard had given him, Dean said, " 'Coach, I just love to play basketball.'
"I then said, 'You can play on the playgrounds or in the Continental League. Why do you want to play for us?' "
It was unclear last night whether the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which Morgan State rejoined this year, would investigate the incident or take any action. Commissioner Ken Free did not return a reporter's phone calls yesterday. Hubbard was not available to comment.
David Berst, director of enforcement for the NCAA, said it was unlikely the NCAA would become involved in the case unless there was cause to believe that Morgan State officials knowingly had tried to violate the rules. "There are students who don't always tell the truth about their backgrounds," Berst said.
According to officials at Morgan State, New Mexico and Chipola Junior College, this much is known about Hubbard.
At both Chipola and New Mexcio, he listed his high school as Hardaway High in Columbus, Ga. According to the Chipola registrar's office, Hubbard had a high school diploma and had not received a GED. Hubbard, whose date of birth is listed by Chipola as July 1, 1959, attended the junior college from June 22, 1978, until Jan. 8, 1979.
He then enrolled at New Mexico, admitted with eight other basketball players on the basis of forged junior college transcripts. Ellenberger subsequently was indicted for mail fraud in connection with the case, but a jury found him not guilty of the charges.
Hubbard played one game, getting four points and five rebounds against West Texas State. From New Mexico, he enrolled at Frank Philips Junior College in Borgen, Tex.
Berst said such cases occur "occasionally." A.B. Williamson, coach at Howard, a fellow member of the MEAC, said coaches always have to be on guard when older athletes come out for their teams. "When a kid looks older (than the normal freshman), you have to investigate every kid," Williamson said. "They'll tell you anything to play basketball."