Southeast Missouri State guard implicated in Vashon probe may not play the rest of this season

Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Southeast Missouri State's Johnny Hill shot against Morehead State earlier this season at the Show Me Center. (Kit Doyle)

Southeast Missouri State University sophomore Johnny Hill may have played his last game this season for the men's basketball team.

The 6-foot-4 guard has been ruled ineligible as university athletic officials conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Hill's high school career at Vashon High School in St. Louis.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in its Sunday editions that Hill's high school coach, Floyd Irons, recently told Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) officials he spent more than $25,000 for lodging and other benefits so that Hill and his brother could attend the school in the city's north side.

The front-page newspaper report sent a jolt through Southeast athletic director Don Kaverman on Sunday morning.

"We immediately started asking questions," said Kaverman, who said the process of getting information includes discussions with Hill.

The university contacted the NCAA on Monday. On Tuesday, it issued a statement that Hill was being declared ineligible pending further information. With just three games left in the regular season and Southeast struggling to make the Ohio Valley Conference tournament field, it's possible the action marks the end of Hill's season.

"Quite likely, it will be," Kaverman said. "There are a lot of questions that need to be asked. We thought it was in the best interests of the student-athlete and the university to declare him ineligible until we had the answers to those questions. I don't know if we're going to be able to get those answers in 10 days. We want to be careful to make sure we're getting accurate information."

Kaverman said the process differs in nature from some other recent investigations in that the probe does not include questioning university employees.

Also, he said the issue seems to be a student-athlete eligibility question that would not include penalties for the men's basketball program or include penalties for Hill's participation over the past two years. Kaverman said he was hopeful the NCAA would consider Southeast's actions when the information came to light.

The Post-Dispatch reported Sunday that Irons put Hill and his younger brother, Bobby, in an apartment near the school for five years from 2002 until Bobby's graduation in 2006. Under the terms of a federal plea agreement, Irons reportedly told MSHSAA officials that he also purchased food, clothing and furniture -- including beds and a television. According to the Post-Dispatch story, Irons gave the Hills' father a car.

Johnny Hill, according to his biography in the Southeast Missouri State basketball media guide, played for two Class 5 state championship teams, though he played for one championship team which won the Class 4 title in 2003-04, and was on the state runner-up in Class 5 in his senior year in 2004-05. He scored 23 points in that 2005 loss to Poplar Bluff that knocked Vashon from its perch as one of the top teams in the country.

Hill did not play basketball in his first year at Southeast, then played in 27 games last season with one start. He averaged 3.6 points per game.

This year, he is averaging 11.4 minutes per game but just 1.7 points. He has played in 24 games, with three starts, and also is averaging 2.1 rebounds.

He scored 11 points in the season-opening loss to Xavier and had a combined 23 rebounds and 27 points in a five-game stretch beginning in late January.

"It's hard to believe that in his third year at the school, this is just coming out," Kaverman said.

The MSHSAA probe into Vashon's possible violations of state association rules covers the time frame from 1998 to 2007 and took a big leap forward with Irons' cooperation under a plea agreement for federal charges of mail and wire fraud related to real estate dealings, according to the Post-Dispatch.

Kaverman said he met with Southeast basketball coach Scott Edgar and assistant AD for compliance Jayson Santos on Tuesday morning to discuss the situation.

Santos responded to an e-mail Tuesday morning that said the athletic department would be conducting an investigation and working directly with the NCAA and OVC to determine any violations.

Kaverman did not rule out the possibility Hill may be ineligible until such time that any impermissible benefits are paid back to restore the student-athlete's amateur status.

"I think the whole realm of possibilities is out there," Kaverman said. "It's way too early to speculate what the ramifications might be for the student."

Southeast plays Saturday in a nonconference ESPN BracketBusters game at Eastern Michigan, then closes the regular season with home games Feb. 28 against Samford and March 1 against Jacksonville State. The Redhawks have a five-game losing streak and are in a 1-11 swoon that has knocked them from being a potential first-round OVC tourney host to scrambling to make the field.

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