As he watched news clips of Alabama football coach Nick Saban and Florida coach Urban Meyer publicly ripping the agents who had tried to make improper contact with members of their respective football teams, former University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach John Calipari wished he'd done the same thing 14 years ago.
Recent revelations that the NCAA is investigating football players at several programs for contact with agents coincided by chance with Marcus Camby being inducted into the UMass athletic hall of fame Friday night. Camby was cited by the NCAA for accepting improper gifts from agents hoping to represent him. As a result, the NCAA officially vacated UMass' appearance in the 1996 Final Four and forced the school to pay back the NCAA Tournament money it received.
Calipari accepted the New Jersey Nets coaching job shortly before the allegations surrounding Camby became public.
"I wish I would have attacked the agents like the football coaches did. Marcus knew he did wrong. Marcus wasn't the type to ask for anything. He was preyed on. He never asked for anything," Calipari said in a Tuesday phone interview. "When it all was coming down, I was going to the Nets. After I had accepted the Nets job, that information came to me. If I would have known before, I might have stayed to fight through it."
Calipari said he felt remorse because not lashing out at the agents forced Camby to absorb what Calipari felt was undue public criticism.
"I saw those two do it and I should have done the same thing and made the issue what the issue really was. What I did let that fall directly on Marcus," Calipari said. "The tack that these football coaches took dealt with the real issue. That would have taken some of the brunt of it off him, even though he made the mistake. When I look back and see now, I think that would have been the right thing to do. I would have been saying right things."
Fourteen years later, Camby made no excuses for his lapse in judgment.
"The poor decision I made, it was definitely disappointing, not just for me but for the entire university. When I went through that, I couldn't blame anybody but myself," Camby said Tuesday. "When that stuff was going on, no one knew about it, no one at the university, none of my coaches or teammates. I thought the only right thing for me to do was own up to my mistakes."
Camby was the consensus national player of the year in 1995-96. He averaged 20.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game while leading the Minutemen to the Final Four as a junior. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft by the Toronto Raptors.
The 6-foot-11 forward/center has been a consistent force blocking shots and rebounding for 14 seasons. He's played for Toronto, New York, Denver, the Los Angles Clippers and is currently a Portland Trailblazer. Friday will be his first time back on campus since he left.
"I'm excited. I haven't been on campus in a long time," Camby said. "I'm anxious to get up there and see a lot of familiar faces. It feels good to be honored, especially after all these years of being out of school and away from the program."
Camby paid UMass back the more than $200,000 of lost television revenue that the school lost as part of its NCAA penalties. He was proud of taking responsibility.
"As I look back on the situation and I see all the stuff that's happening in college basketball and college football, I see how different guys are getting in trouble and not stepping up to the plate. All that it takes is for you to man up," he said. "I just felt like it was the only right thing to do. It was just about me cleansing my mind and my body with all the wrongdoings I did when I was younger man. It was accepting my responsibility and becoming an older and wiser man."
Calipari still resents that the incident damaged UMass' reputation, citing the school's attempts at preventing the very problem that occurred.
"We had done everything prior. We put together a group of people to interview the agents before they could talk to our players," he said. "I was stunned. Here was a kid who lived in the dorm the whole time, never had a car, wore sweat suits the whole time and never had clothes that way. His mother lived in the same house in the projects in Hartford that she lived in the entire time he was in school. They never asked for one thing. He knew he made a mistake and he paid for it. But this was not our program issue or our university issue. This is an agent issue. This kid was preyed upon."
Still a concern
Calipari, who coached Memphis after leaving the NBA, is currently the coach at Kentucky. He's still wary of agents trying to seduce his players.
"You try everything you can. You have an eye out. You talk to them and you let them know how they can embarrass themselves, but you don't have these kids 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. "You're not in their families home or in their hometown. There's not an easy solution and that's what these football coaches are finding out.
"But you're held accountable for it, but it's hard to be responsible for it all," he continued. "All you can do is educate and talk to them and hope when the time comes that they make the right choice."
Camby said the allure of money is still tough for poor kids to turn down.
"There are always going to be guys that are needy. I thought I was a needy kid growing up and not having much. When somebody offers you money that you've never seen, it's tough not to succumb to temptations. There's always going to be somebody who has had it rougher than I had."
Back in the fold
Inducting Camby into the athletic hall of fame is the latest step the athletic department has made to welcome its former star back into the fold after downplaying its connection to him for the first few years after the NCAA issues.
"I'm really happy that the school is doing this. Not only was Marcus a terrific player, he was a great teammate. The other players loved playing with him," Calipari said. "He made everybody on the team better. He did it in a way that made them feel good about their performance."
Camby said he's continued to root for his former school since he left.
"I've followed it every year. I wish we could get back to the level we were at when I was there. Playing on these different NBA teams and being around these different players from other schools, I haven't had much to talk about at tournament time," Camby said. "I'm happy that Derek (Kellogg) is the head coach and that we have one of our own there running the program. Him being involved makes me want to be part of the program even more now."
Now 36, he knows his NBA career is likely winding down.
"When my playing days are over, and hopefully that's not anytime soon, I'm looking forward to the next chapter of my life," he said.
That chapter, Camby said, will include more time with his wife and two daughters and working with kids through his Cambyland foundation.
The foundation has helped fund scholarships, Thanksgiving and Christmas activities in the cities he's played in, and built a teen study center in the Boys & Girls Club in Denver.
"I feel fortunate to have made the NBA and to have made the amount of money that I have, and have the opportunity to give back. I've always been about kids and giving back," said Camby, who still wants to put his education degree to use. "Hopefully I'll be able to fall back on my education and become an elementary school principal."