It wasn't more than a few weeks ago that a sensational 7-foot basketball player named Alfredo (Tito) Horford made it known he didn't want to go to Louisiana State University because he didn't like Baton Rouge, La., where the school is located.
It wasn't long ago, in fact, that Horford -- who moved to Houston from the Dominican Republic three years ago -- made it known that he was recommitted to attending the University of Houston. But after recommitting to Houston, he turned up at the University of Kentucky less than two weeks ago for a visit.
And finally on Thursday -- after what several college coaches call the most bizarre, underhanded recruiting hunt ever -- Horford started classes at LSU, where it appears he will be on basketball scholarship.
There have been reports that several schools that seriously recruited Horford were willing to cheat to get him. A car for him, a job for his brother, a promise that his girlfriend would be admitted to school, an insurance policy, money for his club team in the Dominican Republic -- name it, and apparently somebody has offered it hoping to get Horford.
"I never tried to hurt anyone, but I did make some mistakes and I'm sorry about that," Horford, 19, said at a Thursday news conference in Baton Rouge. "Coming to America was scary for me and very hard because I had to leave my family and my country. I now had to put my trust in others, and some of them gave me poor advice, but I forgive them."
There is a lot that may not be forgiven, or forgotten, before Horford can play basketball at LSU, or at any other NCAA-affiliated college in the United States for that matter. About a month ago, the NCAA required the University of Houston to declare Horford ineligible to play there because of an offcampus recruiting violation by assistant coach Donnie Schverak.
One person who says he spoke with Horford, American University Coach Ed Tapscott, told The Washington Post on Thursday night: "There were so many unsavory practices going on -- the type of things you give consideration for going to the NCAA with. This is perhaps the worst recruiting situation in history."
American appears to be the only nonbasketball power that successfully made contact with Horford and tried to recruit him. When Horford played in the Capital Classic in Landover, Md., last spring, he took an unpaid visit to AU's campus in Northwest Washington that lasted about three hours, according to Tapscott.
The bigger schools with more athletic emphasis always had a better shot at getting Horford. Among them were LSU, Oklahoma, Florida State, UCLA, Kentucky and Houston.
Tapscott said Horford told him that representatives of one school had offered straight cash; and representatives of another offered to pay money to his Dominican team and pay an insurance policy if his American team didn't make the NCAA tournament. All of those alleged inducements are against NCAA rules and would land teams on probation.
The NCAA showed its concern to issues such as these at a special convention earlier this summer by passing the most severe penalties enacted against cheaters. However, the new rules cover any violation occurring after Sept. 1, and thus penalties for any wrongdoing uncovered in the Horford case would be imposed under the old guidelines.
Tapscott said he believes Horford is a victim. As a result, Tapscott said he is deciding whether he should take what he has heard -- Tapscott says during several visits to the Dominican Republic that he kept a log of just about every conversation and meeting -- to the NCAA.
"The big question for me is, 'Who am I hurting?' " Tapscott said. "Is the NCAA going to do something to the perpetrators of this? Or are they going to make a scapegoat out of Horford? My inclination, after talking to the people in my program, is to turn them in."
Tapscott, a law school graduate, was asked if he had any conclusive proof of cheating. "Let's put it this way," he said. "If the kids I've talked to have any credibility at all . . . I'm hearing it directly from the kids who are the beneficiaries.
"When Tito was here, I asked him what he was thinking, whether schools were being straight with him. And he told me, no, schools had offered him money. He told me (one particular school) had offered him money. I told him, 'Well, you're going to find that.' I have direct knowledge of cheating, from his mouth, on two schools."
Horford said in an interview with the Houston Post this summer that representatives of LSU had offered improper inducements to him in order to attract him to the school. Horford also said at the time he would rather attend a junior college than LSU because of statements LSU Coach Dale Brown made (to Sports Illustrated) about Horford wanting a car and money.
Brown used Thursday's news conference to denounce allegations that he had done anything unethical or improper in recruiting Horford. "I never called an athlete, I have never pressured an athlete after he has signed a legal national letter of intent," he said.
According to published reports, Brown went to the Dominican Republic earlier this summer to meet with Horford, who already had signed a letter of intent to attend Houston. Brown says the letter was not signed by Horford's legal guardian -- his mother -- and therefore was not "legal," a situation similar to Jose Vargas, another athlete from the Dominican Republic who went to LSU last year after signing a national letter of intent to attend Youngstown State.
Brown said LSU was cautious "to the extent of paranoia" in its efforts to meet NCAA rules, even to the point of taping phone calls. Brown also said Horford would not be available for interviews until Oct. 15, which is the first day teams are permitted by the NCAA to begin practice.
In Houston yesterday, Houston Athletic Director Tom Ford was quoted by the Associated Press as saying he met with Horford in Baton Rouge on Friday, with Brown and an LSU lawyer also present. At that time, Ford said the athlete told him he enrolled at LSU because his mother wanted him in college immediately.
"He (Horford) told me his mother said that school had started, and she didn't want there to be any problems in Houston," Ford said. "She said he needed to be in school because that was the reason she sent him to the United States."
Ford said he asked Horford how he got to Baton Rouge, and the athlete told him a friend drove him to Louisiana and that he stayed at the apartment of a friend. The identities of the person or persons involved were not disclosed.
Houston also wants to pursue its appeal of the school's handling of the Horford case, according to Ford. But he said that Nathan Fisher, LSU's attorney, rejected Ford's request to make Horford available for the appeal hearing.
Attempts to contact Brown for comment the past two days have been unsuccessful.
It is NCAA policy not to discuss an investigation, or even confirm or deny that one exists. Still, there are indications the NCAA is investigating any possible wrongdoing by Horford or the schools that recruited him.
"In Dallas, where he played in a McDonald's high school all-star game, I went there and saw him play," Tapscott said. "He told me (he had talked to) a guy from the NCAA who was investigating SMU football. The guy had talked to one of the SMU linebackers, and even brought (the football player) to show Tito.
"I think whether or not he plays ball (in an NCAA college) depends on whether the NCAA feels he is part of this . . . cheating," Tapscott said. "If they think he's out soliciting offers -- that he's got his hand way out -- they could rule him ineligible, and I think he would have to go to Europe (to play until he was ready for the NBA).
"On the other hand, if they take into account that he's a foreign youngster, if they look into his history and see who his contacts have been and the type of perspective he's had, they may come to a different conclusion. The unique set of circumstances which surround this case really, to me, argue for Tito Horford being a victim more than anything else."
Horford, who is 7 feet 1 and weighs 245 pounds, has been called "a franchise, potentially the next Patrick Ewing" by many college scouts and coaches. Originally, he was quite a baseball player in San Pedro de Macoris, a town that advertises itself as having produced more current major league baseball players than any other city.
But in 1981, having grown to 6-10, Horford was discovered by Darryl Brown, a former Houston player who was playing for a club team in the Dominican Republic. Brown relayed word to a Houston assistant, who in turn relayed word to a Houston high school coach, and by 1982, Horford was enrolled at Marian Christian in Houston.
As a senior, he averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots per game. In November 1984, he signed a national letter of intent to attend Houston. His girlfriend, Arelis Reynoso, also was accepted. Horford's mother has been quoted as saying she didn't want her son to attend Houston.
Since that time, the letter of intent supposedly had been declared improper (because Horford's mother didn't sign; Bob Gallagher, his high school coach and self-declared guardian, did sign). It finally was declared invalid on Aug. 12 by the NCAA because Schverak visited Horford's home in the Dominican during the NCAA's non-visitation period and thus gained an unfair recruiting edge, the NCAA said.
Also in the past year, Horford, like many foreign amateur athletes, has played for a club team in his homeland and received payment. It is a permissible practice in the Dominican Republic and most countries besides the United States.
Tapscott's first contact with Horford came two years ago when a friend of his from the Dominican told him about Manuel Nadal and Vargas. While recruiting them (Nadal came to AU), Tapscott saw Horford. After a conversation between Nadal and Horford, Nadal convinced Tapscott to call Horford during the permissible contact period because Horford was having second thoughts about Houston, according to Tapscott.
Meanwhile, representatives from at least UCLA and LSU were trying to recruit Horford. Sports Illustrated reported UCLA had Los Angeles Dodgers coach Manny Mota, a Dominican, call him.
Tapscott said, "Tito had one set of coaches telling him, 'Hey, they can do that for you, but I can do this,' and another set telling him, 'Yeah, but he can do this, and I can do that for you.'
"He's a very confused young man. He's like a wheat stalk in the wind; he doesn't know where to turn."