Clemons' credibility is under scrutiny

Saturday, July 10, 2004

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Ricky Clemons once told a newspaper of seeing an eight-foot moose during a basketball trip to Alaska. But he never visited the state.

Clemons denied Jessica Bunge was his girlfriend. But he later acknowledged the relationship in court, as he pleaded guilty to assaulting her.

Clemons declared on federal student aid paperwork that his mother was dead, and told a newspaper she was killed in a drunken-driving crash. But she was alive in North Carolina.

The former basketball player's allegations of being paid $250 by an ex-coach at the University of Missouri-Columbia comprise the most serious allegation in a catalogue of alleged NCAA rule-breaking.

Once again, Clemons' own accounts are contradictory, displaying what accused former coach Tony Harvey's lawyer, Stu Brown, calls "a pattern of misinformation" and "manipulative skills."

With NCAA punishment for Missouri basketball hinging on his charges, can Clemons be believed?

Yes, says Aaron Ford, attorney for the former point guard -- because Clemons has nothing to gain from lying about his brief, turbulent history at Missouri.

"He has always maintained he received payment," Ford said in a telephone interview.

Missouri coaches have consistently said no athletes were paid.

Brown's formal reply to the NCAA on Harvey's behalf vehemently challenges Clemons' consistency, and thus his believability.

Missouri concursIn less vivid language than Brown, so does the formal response from the University of Missouri, which describes its former student's account as "clearly contrived."

What has Clemons said?

Audio tapes of Clemons' outbound calls from the Boone County Jail last summer included a boast that he received more money than Tony Cole, a former University of Georgia basketball player who claimed to have gotten hundreds of dollars from coaches and athletic boosters.

"Just know it's bigger than Tony Cole," Clemons told Amy Stewart, wife of Missouri associate athletic director Ed Stewart. Clemons went on to dismiss Cole's supposed payments as "nothing; that's a rain check."

In an interview taped last Dec. 11 with Sporting News Radio, amid initial public disclosure of his jailhouse calls, Clemons said, "I don't take none of it back ... what was said was said."

And in a February sit-down for HBO's "Real Sports" with the same interviewer, James Brown, Clemons renewed his claim of being paid as a Tiger:

"I never got more than $500 at a time. I never kept up with it. I just received the money."

"Did you ask for money or was it just being given to you?" James Brown asked.

"It was just being given to me. Sometimes in cash, but if it was something major that had to be paid for -- go get a money order. You can't trace that," said Clemons, who was booted from the team in summer 2003 as a result of legal troubles with his ex-girlfriend.

In Harvey's reply to the NCAA, Stu Brown said any allegations that rely on Clemons' trustworthiness should be discarded. He noted many witnesses said Harvey wouldn't have been likely to display such largesse toward Clemons because the men never got along.

The attorney quoted from a Sept. 17, 2003, interview of Clemons by NCAA investigators, who had discussed allowable payments the athlete received for travel expenses.

"But outside of that, (was there) any other time where you got any money from any coaches?" an unidentified investigator asked.

"I mean -- no," Clemons replied.

Brown said that answer "demolishes the believability" of Clemons' claim that Harvey gave him a one-time payment of $250 around Thanksgiving 2002.

The attorney added that Harvey, who was interviewed four times by the NCAA and Missouri investigators since 2002, "has been and will continue to be extremely cooperative."

In contrast, Brown wrote in his NCAA reply, investigators following up this spring on Clemons' claim that unidentified witnesses saw Harvey give him the money at the athlete's apartment were told that Clemons was "simply tired of answering questions."

Clemons has declined recent interviews.

But Ford, his attorney, said, "We expect that people are going to argue against Mr. Clemons' credibility."

"There isn't any benefit for Mr. Clemons in making these types of statements," Ford added, because Clemons, who now lives in North Carolina, plans to return to college this fall.

Ford won't say where Clemons hopes to enroll, but the attorney said telling falsehoods "would only endanger Mr. Clemons' own ability to do what he most likes to do, and that is play basketball."

"To those who question Mr. Clemons' credibility, they are simply inaccurate and those statements are frankly incorrect."

The NCAA's infractions committee has scheduled hearings Aug. 13-15 in Seattle to sort it out.

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