Tamir Goodman sat on a couch in his family's Pikesville, Md., home on Wednesday night, listening to a recruiting pitch from Towson University men's basketball coach Mike Jaskulski. Only two weeks ago, the 6-foot-3, 17-year-old redhead was looking forward to living out his boyhood dream: playing basketball for the University of Maryland.
Goodman, an Orthodox Jew who attracted national attention in January when he made a nonbinding commitment to accept a scholarship offer from Maryland, withdrew that commitment to the Terrapins Sept. 10. Goodman said he and his family believed that the Terrapins' coaching staff no longer wanted him.
While the NCAA prohibits university personnel from talking about specific recruits, Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow said it is the policy of the school to honor any "verbal commitment made by a coach to a recruit in any sport."
Yow added: "He had the scholarship."
"Coaches decide who they are going to recruit and who they are going to sign," she said. "I'm not going to say publicly the nature of any conversations I've had with Coach [Gary] Williams except what our policy is. . . . Once a coach makes a verbal commitment of a scholarship to an athlete, although it is not legally binding, we would honor that in any sport."
Nevertheless, Goodman feels spurned by the Terrapins. And in the wake of his decision and the furor surrounding a meeting Sept. 2 between Goodman and his mother and Williams and Williams's top assistant, Billy Hahn, Goodman's father, Karl, has ripped the "Go Terps" bumper sticker off the back of his son's 1996 Mazda.
Williams, while not commenting directly, told a friend this week that Goodman had the scholarship and that he expected him to attend Maryland in the fall of 2000. Then, Williams heard otherwise on Sept. 10 in a voice-mail message from Goodman.
Williams reportedly told Goodman at the Sept. 2 meeting the player needed to improve his game and regain the level at which he was playing last season, including regaining his confidence. Goodman, hampered by a knee injury, had not played well during the summer. But, sources said, Williams never withdrew the scholarship offer.
Still, Goodman believed Williams was trying to untie the relationship.
"The Maryland people changed their minds," Goodman said. "It just wasn't a match where I belonged. I'm happy I saw that before I went there because transferring is a big pain. Maryland didn't mean to hurt me.
"The only thing is, I wish they would have told me straight out instead. It's like I have said, it's like promising a kid a birthday present and then not giving it to him. . . .
"I don't have any hard feelings about them because I don't think they planned it out to be this way. But at the same time, they should have done their homework before they offered [a scholarship] to me. But at the same time, I don't think they expected it to get this crazy."
Goodman's father and Harold Katz, Tamir's advisor and former high school coach, said in interviews that Williams made the teenager feel unwanted and that Williams tried to convince him that he might be better off elsewhere.
In an interview yesterday, Goodman said he thinks Williams tried to dissuade him from accepting the scholarship because it would have been difficult for the program to accommodate his religious lifestyle, which prohibits Goodman from playing or practicing on the Jewish Sabbath -- from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.
Williams does not dispute Goodman's assessment that his restrictions on play on Saturday would have been an obstacle. However, according to sources, Katz led the Maryland coaching staff to believe during Goodman's recruitment last winter that the player might be open to playing on the Sabbath.
Katz responded: "I'm guilty of saying, `You just have to ask the kid.' I say that to everyone."
Williams has said several times he would have tried to avoid scheduling nonconference games on Saturday, but league games are often played then, as are tournament games. Goodman, Maryland coaches maintain, was aware of the situation.
Last season, as a junior at the Talmudical Academy in Baltimore, he averaged 35.4 points per game against weak competition. The injured knee slowed Goodman over the summer, and he did not play well in summer basketball camps for elite players. "His confidence was not there," a Maryland coach told a friend.
Still, he remained set on going to Maryland, transferring to Takoma Academy in Takoma Park for his senior year to play against better opponents.
But just after school began, things took a turn.
On Aug. 31, Goodman received a phone call from Hahn, asking Goodman to come to campus to meet with him and Williams. They arranged to meet that Thursday afternoon, and Katz said Goodman was told to come alone.
But when Goodman arrived at the basketball office on the concourse at Cole Field House after attending school that day at Takoma, he was accompanied by his mother, Chava. Goodman described the meeting as "very serious. It was very intense on their part. Everything to be brought out on the table."
According to Goodman and his family, Maryland coaches wondered if Goodman should look into the possibility of attending a smaller college, where the basketball team would not be bound by television contracts, as Maryland is, and could schedule its games around the Sabbath. Goodman said Williams yelled at his mother, saying, "Don't put words in my mouth," and told Goodman that not being able to play on the Sabbath likely would affect his playing time.
"It bothered me," Goodman said of the reported exchange, "but I was always taught never to talk back to a coach. So I didn't say anything."
According to sources, Williams denied raising his voice. Rather, the sources said, he felt Goodman's mother kept interrupting the conversation, and that in the end, Goodman left the meeting saying he would come to Maryland. Williams, friends said, believes neither he nor Hahn did anything out of line.
At the meeting, according to sources, Goodman reiterated to Williams he would not play or practice on the Sabbath.
Karl Goodman said Williams "thought that [Tamir] could get permission from a rabbi to play or something like that."
Maryland coaches said they always told Tamir Goodman they would do the best they could with the Sabbath situation, and that nothing was promised regarding when he was expected to play, or how much playing time he would get.
After the meeting, minutes after Goodman said he told Williams he was still coming to Maryland, Goodman called Katz on his mother's cell phone from the parking lot outside Cole Field House.
"He said he was `surprised [Williams] screamed at my mom,' " Katz related. "I said, `We'll just have to talk about what happened and what to do now.' . . .
"He left there thinking he still wanted to go. Then he got home and realized, `I can't believe I got treated that way. Why would I want to go to a place like that?' "
One week later, Goodman said, he left a message on Hahn's office voice mail, saying he was not going to accept the scholarship.
"It takes a couple days to turn down an [Atlantic Coast Conference] scholarship," Goodman said. "My whole life, that's what I've been dreaming of."
How It Started
The recruitment of Tamir Goodman began last December when Katz sent a half-hour videotape of the player to Maryland, hoping to encourage interest in him.
Hahn watched Goodman play in a high school tournament at Howard High in December. Shortly thereafter, Williams authorized making a scholarship offer. According to Katz, Goodman was ecstatic; he had grown up a Maryland fan, and now he was about to realize his dream.
Katz said he was a little more skeptical, arranging for a meeting with Williams and Hahn before Goodman accepted the offer. The four agreed to meet at Cole Field House following Maryland's home game against North Carolina State on Jan. 10. Before the game, Katz said he bet Goodman $10 the sides would be unable to work out a compromise that would allow him to play at Maryland and maintain his religious beliefs.
Katz said he and Goodman arrived at the arena early, eager to take in the game and to see Hahn. After the game, Goodman and Katz met with Hahn and Williams in a small office off the entrance to the Terrapins' locker room. Katz said Goodman and Williams did most of the talking during the meeting. According to Katz, Williams said he would allow Goodman to travel apart from the team and would attempt to schedule games around the Sabbath.
"Gary said he didn't see that much of a problem," Katz said. "He said it was a workable situation. That kind of floored me, but it made Tamir happy."
According to the friend of Williams, "Tamir was given no assurances that he would not be asked to play on the Sabbath." The Maryland coaches, sources said, believed his not playing on Saturday would pose a problem, but they were led to believe Goodman might be available to play.
At the end of the meeting, Goodman told Williams he would accept the scholarship offer. It was reported in newspapers the following day and within a week, Goodman was a celebrity. He was featured on ESPN and in Sports Illustrated. Newspapers across the nation wrote about the yarmulke-wearing teenager who could dunk. He became a regular at Maryland games; at one, he received an ovation from the student section as he entered.
Still, Katz had doubts.
"I refused to pay him the $10 until I saw him wearing red," Katz said.
But aside from the times he attended games, Katz said, Goodman was ignored by Maryland's coaching staff after he made the commitment. It was not until early March, Katz said, that one of the coaches attended a game to see Goodman play; assistant Dave Dickerson watched Talmudical play Yeshiva School on March 8 at Ritchie Coliseum on Maryland's campus. The following night, Williams saw Goodman play for the first -- and only -- time in a game in which Goodman made just 4 of 41 shots and scored a season-low 15 points in an 84-35 loss to McNamara at Cole Field House.
It was around that time that Katz began hearing rumors that Maryland's interest in Goodman had cooled. As Katz put it, "The undercurrent in the community of basketball was loud."
Katz said he called Hahn and asked whether there was any validity to the talk. According to Katz, Hahn said, "If you didn't hear it from me or Gary, it isn't true."
A source familiar with the university's men's basketball program said Maryland coaches were confident in Goodman's ability. The coaches and Katz tried to arrange a rigorous summer basketball schedule, knowing Goodman needed to play against good competition.
But one night while playing in a pickup game at Cole, Goodman went up to block a shot, Katz said, and landed on someone's foot. He crumpled to the floor in pain. Doctors diagnosed a sprained medial collateral ligament in Goodman's right knee. The injury affected his play for the rest of the summer.
He played only one day at the prestigious five-day adidas ABCD camp in New Jersey in early July and was limited in his movement against some of the nation's top players. He played in a camp sponsored by Five Star in Pittsburgh later that month, where camp operator Howard Garfinkel said it looked like Goodman would be "in over his head" if he went to Maryland. Others had the same assessment.
Now, Karl Goodman said his son is looking forward to being recruited again. Among those who have expressed interest is Georgia State Coach Lefty Driesell -- a former head coach at Maryland. Coaches for Bowling Green University are scheduled to make an in-home visit next week. Tamir Goodman also plans to visit the University of Delaware, among other schools.
Although Karl Goodman said his son will not make a decision until the spring, he said he is getting over the disappointment.
"I'm not really thinking about any colleges," Tamir Goodman said. ". . . It's all going to work out."
Staff writer George Solomon contributed to this report.