MU denies Clemons' charge

Thursday, December 11, 2003

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Two Missouri basketball players denied on Wednesday an allegation caught on a jailhouse recording by ousted teammate Ricky Clemons that they received cash from two assistant coaches.

Missouri coach Quin Snyder said he had the "utmost confidence" in the accused assistants, Lane Odom and Tony Harvey, and that they remain on his staff. But Snyder and the assistants said they couldn't comment further because of ongoing NCAA and university investigations.

Clemons' allegations -- captured on routine jail telephone recordings while he was serving a sentence in the Boone County Jail last summer -- were the latest developments in the troubled athlete's saga to rock Missouri's basketball program.

More than 24 hours of taped conversations involving Clemons have been released to media organizations. Among comments caught on tape:

Clemons told a friend, Amy Stewart, wife of Missouri Associate Athletic Director Ed Stewart, that his former girlfriend Jessica Bunge deposited into Clemons' bank account money he received during stops at the Hearnes Center, the Tigers' arena and home of the school's athletic department offices. Bunge had told investigators in the domestic abuse prosecution against Clemons that he came out of the arena with money on several occasions.

Clemons told Stewart he and former teammates Rickey Paulding, a preseason All-American, and Arthur Johnson, both seniors, received money from Odom and Harvey, which would apparently violate NCAA rules. "If they need money, they'd go to Harvey," Clemons said at one point. "He'd get it for 'em." Paulding and Johnson issued identically worded statements through the athletic department on Wednesday, specifically denying receiving money.

Snyder, his hand trembling with apparent stress as he fielded repeated questions about Clemons instead of about the third-ranked Tigers' game on Saturday against Gonzaga, said he was barred from saying much because of the investigations.

"As tough as it is for me personally not to respond, and for my coaches not to respond, I cannot discuss these allegations," Snyder said.

Odom and Harvey didn't return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Publicity about the tapes caused new embarrassment for Elson Floyd, president of the University of Missouri system, whose debut year as the university's first black chief executive has been touched by various Clemons controversies. Floyd agreed last spring, at Snyder's personal request, to befriend and serve as a role model for Clemons, who is black.

Floyd said he broke off contact with the troubled athlete after Clemons wrecked an all-terrain vehicle owned by Floyd's wife during a July 4 party at Floyd's official campus residence. It turned out that Clemons didn't have permission to attend the party or to be away from his halfway house that night. He was ordered to the Boone County Jail to complete a 60-day sentence for admitting to the choking assault on Bunge.

The tapes show the ex-Tiger placed at least seven collect calls to Floyd's wife, Carmento, and that he talked to her in three-way phone conversations set up by Stewart, a mutual friend.

Mrs. Floyd said in a statement that she stayed in touch with Clemons, despite her husband's insistence she break off contact, because she was trying to help the young man by encouraging him to go back to school.

On Wednesday, Snyder told reporters "I certainly regret any undue stress" Clemons' problems have caused for Elson Floyd and for the university. Snyder also commended the Floyds for being willing to help a student with problems.

Elson Floyd has been criticized for agreeing to help a basketball player when the university's four campuses have about 60,000 students. Floyd has said he has a long record of personal involvement with students at risk.

Missouri and the NCAA have spent months investigating allegations surrounding Clemons, a former guard who transferred to Missouri from a junior college last year. Those allegations included assertions by Bunge that he received money, clothes and improper help with schoolwork.

Questions have arisen about how Clemons accumulated 24 academic credits from correspondence courses and a Kansas junior college during just two months in the summer of 2002. Twenty-four credits are the equivalent of eight one-semester courses, far more than most students tackle in a full semester, let alone a shorter summer session.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: