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Why would Hardesty threaten Dakich in 2002?

MORGANTOWN - My lasting on-court memory of Jonathan Hargett isn't that of most others.

Perhaps that's because it came in a sparsely-attended game at Madison Square Garden that didn't warrant much attention. A West Virginia team that had begun the season 7-2 had just been thumped by an average of 25 points in back-to-back games against Valparaiso and Pepperdine in the Fiesta Bowl Classic in Tucson. That marked the beginning of the end, a 1-18 finish that would be the end for both Hargett and Gale Catlett.

On that early January afternoon in 2002, I clearly remember Hargett, on back-to-back possessions, crossing midcourt and launching ridiculous shots, kind of like Archie Talley used to do at Salem. But Archie's always had a chance.

Hargett's first hit the glass two feet to the left of the rim. Undaunted and apparently determined to correct his aim, his second hit the glass two feet right of the rim.

At first I thought perhaps he was trying his signature move, which was bouncing the ball off the glass and dunking the rebound. But he merely watched both shots.

I bring that up, of course, because Hargett is back in the West Virginia consciousness thanks to a story by Pete Thamel in the New York Times over the weekend.

That Hargett is nearing the end of a five-year prison term for drugs in Virginia is not surprising.

Even his insistence to Thamel that he was promised $20,000 a year to attend West Virginia is not surprising. That Hargett was getting money during his brief college basketball career is not a new revelation.

Without rehashing well-documented and thoroughly-investigated reports from a decade ago, suffice it to say that's the reason Hargett spent only a year at WVU. He was being paid, mostly by a runner for an agent. West Virginia investigated everything possible and turned the findings over to the NCAA. The NCAA likewise investigated and cleared WVU of any wrongdoing.

So from that aspect, the Times story - which, by the way, was in no way intended to target WVU, but rather to shine a light on a basketball prodigy's life gone wrong - is an interesting read with some fascinating details as recalled by Hargett. And if he says the figure was $20,000 a year or $60,000 total, fine. But Hargett probably didn't know or care where that money was coming from and can generally say that he was promised the money to play at WVU. The NCAA's probe into it 10 years ago absolved anyone at West Virginia of paying it, so in the absence of anything other than Hargett's prison interview, we'll leave it at that.

Instead, the most curious part of the reporting done by the

Times comes from Dan Dakich, who was hired to replace Catlett in the spring of 2002 and inherited the Hargett mess. Dakich spent about a week on the job, never signed a contract, decided the challenges at West Virginia were just too great and went back to his job at Bowling Green.

Now Dakich is quoted as saying that at West Virginia he found "a culture of dishonesty, and that had been there for a while.'' Even more stunningly, he said that when he learned of Hargett's situation and approached then-WVU president David Hardesty, Hardesty told him, 'If you go any further with this, we'll destroy you.''

Oh, good. Now we have a brand new memory of the Hargett era.

Hardesty, of course, denies ever threatening Dakich.

"I don't believe that I threatened him.  I don't believe I used that term,'' Hardesty said Monday during an interview with MetroNews. "If the term 'destroy' came up, it was in a completely different context, which resulted in a misunderstanding.''

OK, so that doesn't sound like the kind of angry denial one might expect from someone whose character has just been assassinated, right? I'd have said something more along the lines of: Are you insane?

David Hardesty isn't like that, though. If you've ever talked to the man, he speaks in measured, well-considered words, often times to a fault.

But that's exactly the point. Someone used the term mild-mannered the other day when refusing to believe that Hardesty would ever threaten anyone. Just as he doesn't seem to speak in absolutes and with anger when denying Dakich's charges, neither would he be likely to say what he's accused of saying.

"I'm not going to say that I [didn't] use that term. I don't remember doing that,'' Hardesty said. "But we probably talked about the implications for his career walking away and the implications for his career for staying. I was still trying to recruit him.''

That was my first thought when I tried to make sense of it, too. I can see Hardesty telling Dakich that taking a high-profile job at a Big East school and then walking away might destroy his career. It's hard to imagine Dakich hearing that as a threat, but I suppose it's possible.

The bottom line, Hardesty said, was that he met with Dakich to try to recruit him to stay, not to strong-arm him into doing so, which is not his style.

"We had shaken hands and had a press conference and it was widely reported he was our new coach. We wanted him to stay,'' Hardesty said. "As many papers said afterward, the fact that he left was an embarrassment for the university. I was hoping that he would stay.''

The bottom line, though, is that after Dakich left, WVU immediately went into investigative mode. Say what you will that the accused shouldn't be the ones investigating the crime, but the university did so in the shadow of the NCAA and that body ultimately agreed with the findings.

"When he left, the next morning we announced that he had revealed to us some things that gave us some concern,'' Hardesty said. "We established a committee to look into it, we used outside counsel and we used internal auditors at the university. We put the faculty representative on the group that looked into it.

"We found that there was some fire behind the smoke [in that Hargett had been receiving money]. We invited the NCAA in, they looked it over and the university received sanctions. But there was no proof at all that anyone here knew or condoned the payments that the student was receiving. . . . We launched an investigation and the NCAA was part of it. I'm just flabbergasted.''

Hardesty is long removed from the situation, as is everyone else. The Times story brought it all back up again. And, indeed, there are disturbing details - or at least the recollection of details a decade later - that give one pause. The Hargett accusation that West Virginia agreed to pay him $20,000 a year to play basketball is one. The insistence by Dakich that he was threatened if he pursued the matter is another.

Again, though, it was 10 years ago and the former seems to have been thoroughly vetted. The NCAA tends not to simply take the word of its institutions that it has done no wrong and that organization, with its investigation of the most trivial details, came up essentially with a no-fault verdict where WVU was concerned.

The Dakich allegations regarding Hardesty are, of course, joined at the hip with the Hargett mess. But a decade later, the particulars of a single conversation between two men are hard to pin down, even for the participants. Dakich felt threatened. Hardesty maintains everything was done by the book and that, in a way, he even feels gratitude toward Dakich.

"If there was any kind of untoward activity, we did our best to ferret it out. And we did,'' Hardesty said. "And partly, he brought it to our attention. I'll give him credit for that. But we acted on it. There was no reason for me to threaten him. It's just so strange that I would threaten someone in the context of trying to keep him there.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.


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