Tito Horford, the prize catch in college basketball recruiting last season, left Louisiana State University because he independently talked to an NCAA investigator concerning his recruitment and was afraid of what Coach Dale Brown's reaction might be when he found out, a source close to Horford said yesterday.
Horford, a 7-footer from the Dominican Republic, was dismissed from the LSU team Sunday after he missed practice Friday and a scrimmage Saturday.
Ed Tapscott, American University basketball coach, yesterday denied accusations that he tampered with Horford and is trying to convince him to enroll at American.
At the time Brown dismissed Horford, he said he had evidence that other schools, which he did not name, had tampered with the player. The Washington Post in Monday's editions quoted sources as saying one of those schools was American.
"If they said I tampered with the kid, they're mistaken," Tapscott said yesterday. "I haven't seen or heard from the kid. That's all I should respond to (about charges) from anonymous sources. We've violated no rules. I'm sure of that."
In September, Tapscott said he had direct knowledge of cheating by two schools after conversations with Horford and was considering going to the NCAA.
Horford originally signed with the University of Houston, but he was ruled ineligible to play there after the university acknowledged a recruiting violation. On the day before Horford's eligibility appeal at Houston was to be heard by the NCAA, Horford left Houston and showed up 300 miles away in Baton Rouge, La. He enrolled at LSU the next day.
The NCAA is investigating Horford's recruitment by LSU, and Horford might have been declared ineligible there, too, sources said. As a matter of policy, the NCAA declines comment on ongoing investigations. Sources said it will take another month before the NCAA completes its investigation.
LSU officials had refused to let Horford be interviewed by NCAA investigators unless a university lawyer was present. Horford was interviewed in such a manner at least twice, sources said.
Within the past three weeks, Horford met with the NCAA at an undisclosed location without the knowledge of LSU officials, a source said.
Brown was not available to comment last night. Previously, he has denied any wrongdoing in LSU's recruitment of Horford.
Horford was in Washington this past Saturday or Sunday, a source said. Horford is a friend of Julio Castillo, a lawyer and friend of Tapscott who has given the American University coach an entree into recruiting athletes from the Dominican Republic. (Manuel Nadal, a Dominican and friend of Horford's from the same hometown, is a redshirt-freshman guard at American.)
Horford's girlfriend, Arelis Reynoso, also from the Dominican Republic, had stayed at Castillo's in recent weeks after leaving Baton Rouge, according to a source.
Horford, the source said, called Castillo and asked him if Reynoso could stay there after Brown was successful in getting the woman to leave Baton Rouge. There, she had been staying at the house of Ed Gomez, a former Dominican Republic basketball player and coach, as well as a friend of Horford and Brown.
Horford was not available for comment yesterday. A source close to him said Horford and Reynoso are together at an undisclosed location outside the Washington area. The source said that Horford still wants to play college basketball.
It is unclear whether he will be able to play this year, or in the future. If the NCAA rules Horford ineligible at LSU, he would be able to transfer and play immediately.
But, if he is not ruled ineligible at LSU, he would be treated like any other transfer and would have to sit out one year.
Two sources in Baton Rouge said that Horford may have signed with an agent, Pat Ellis, a Houston attorney and University of Houston booster. That could make Horford a professional under NCAA rules and ineligible for collegiate competition.
In a telephone interview, Ellis denied compromising Horford's amateur status. "That's absolutely untrue," he said. "I was working to restore his eligibility (at Houston). I wouldn't do something to mess up his eligibility."
A source familiar with the NCAA investigation said the NCAA still is trying to determine whether Horford received excessive payments for expenses when he played in a Dominican Republic league last summer.
If so, he would be ineligible for NCAA competition, though he would be considered an amateur for international play.
Bob Frailey, athletic director at American, and Tom Yeager, commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association of which American is a member, said they have received no hard evidence that American has violated NCAA rules by tampering with Horford.
"If there are specifics, tell us," said Yeager, a former NCAA investigator. "Let's get out of this rumor and innuendo. Let us know . . . If somebody from LSU had any specific information, we'd follow up on it. Let's deal with facts and not pin the tail on the donkey here."
Two sources in Baton Rouge said that Horford came to Washington the weekend before basketball practice began Oct. 15.
According to one of the sources, Horford stayed at Castillo's house. Tapscott visited him there and told Horford he "was looking skinny" and "never would play for LSU."
The source said Tapscott told Horford that American was building a new gym and that if Horford came to American, he could do for that school what Patrick Ewing did for Georgetown.
According to a source close to the American program, no such meeting occurred. Horford was on campus to visit Nadal Saturday, Oct. 12, and that's where Tapscott saw him. Horford and Nadal then went to lunch. That meeting was reported to an NCAA investigator two days later.
"We make no secret he was here," Frailey said. "He's got a very, very close friend here -- maybe one of the few he has in the United States."
Sometime later, Horford met independently with the NCAA.
Castillo declined comment.