Update: 10:29a. Isaiah Whitehead is still considering Syracuse. His mother Ericka Rambert apparently had thought Bernie Fine was Jim Boeheim. Isaiah’s Lincoln coach Dwayne Morton tells ESPN.com, “His mother thought Fine was the head coach. The way she was asked led her to think it was the head coach who was involved. Syracuse is one of the schools that Isaiah is still interested in.” Whitehead confirmed his interest. Great news for SU. A mother has every right to be weary of a program where these allegations surround any coach, assistant or head. What mother would be totally comfortable sending their child to a school where the assistant was charged with sexual abuse? Rambert was probably just emotional after the recent details about PSU and protecting her son (like any good mom). Morton, or an SU coach, probably read the quotes and informed her they’re just accusations right now, not to overreact just yet and to let the story play out before making any rash decisions. I like Ericka already. She’s feisty and will protect her children, but open to hearing the whole story. Score one for moms everywhere. Not to be overlooked in a situation like this is the numerous former SU players publicly supporting Fine. It shows recruits the players that came before them were affected positively by Fine. This rings loudly on the recruiting trail.
* * *
Isaiah Whitehead is the first recruit to scratch Syracuse because of the Bernie Fine accusations. At least that’s what his mother, Ericka Rambert, told the New York Post:
“They’re definitely off his list. Isaiah’s not going there. That’s out of the question. Once you have something like that in the program, you don’t want to be a part of it. You don’t know who else is involved. You don’t know who else knew about it. It’s a lot to deal with.”
The sophomore Whitehead is a New York City product, and a top 20 prospect in his class of ’14, so this is distressing for SU. It’s not surprising to hear a parent lash out against these types of allegations, and protect their child from being anywhere near something as rancid as sexual abuse. And it wouldn’t be shocking if privately there are plenty of parents shielding their sons from playing at either Penn State or SU right now. The wounds are still raw, the news fresh in everyone’s mind. It’s hard to imagine, though, that if Fine is found clean there is long term harm done to the program. Of course, if Fine is found guilty, the Orange will be bruised on the recruiting trail for some time.
Whitehead is only a sophomore, and was offered a scholarship by SU before any other school. He’s counts Carmelo as his favorite player, and has a strong relationship with the Orange coaching staff. If the allegations are cleansed, Whitehead could easily jump back into the mix for SU (especially since it’s his mom who publicly crossed off the Orange, not Isaiah). Maybe Momma Whitehead softens her stance.
It does, however, show the sensitive nature of the accusations, and how destructive they could be – true or untrue. In a the ever-pressurized recruiting landscape, the idea of their child being in harms way is the biggest red flag of all. Tattoos for jerseys? Eh. Yachts and boosters? Yawn. Pedophilia or sex abuse? That’s program poison. You can envision the mocking Penn State recruits could be hearing from their friends, teammates or opponents. An 18-year-old may want to avoid the off-color jokes or wearing a snap-back with that stigma enough to scratch them off the list.
Jim Boeheim is by nature combative and defiant. And the last four days surely has his juices roiling more than usual. But his caustic remarks yesterday when asked about the potential for negative recruiting were especially sharp.
“I hope they do because we’ll kill ’em. I hope they do. Negative recruiting only helps us. I love it. They usually say it snows too much here. I love it. I say, ‘if that’s the only think you’re concerned about, then we don’t want you here.”
“Negative recruiting has been going on for 50-60 years, it’s nothing new. I love it when people do it to us because I just go ‘I want you to go to that school. You should go to people that are negative, you should go play for them, that are talking about us, next year they’ll be talking about you.’ Those people do not have character. I love it when people negative recruit. We never do. You can negative recruit all you want against us.”
“We don’t want you here. I want you to go to that school. You should go play for them.” Wow. A Jim Boeheim under fire is a Jim Boeheim you want to avoid. He has used outside criticism as fuel for his career and this program for years. So in some ways this is not new. But even by The Per’fesser’s standards this is a biting response. You have to feel there’s a real worry inside those walls these allegations can cause some seriously choppy waters. Whitehead is just one athlete, and there’s every reason to believe he may jump back into the mix next year after this cloud passes. The real problem will come if these clouds have rain in them.