Mid-April is supposed to be a quiet time for basketball in San Diego. Focus is typically on the beginning of the San Diego Padres’ season and what the San Diego Chargers might do in the upcoming NFL draft.

Since there isn’t an NBA team in San Diego, there’s usually no reason to be talking hoops.

But this week has been different, particularly since the departure of San Diego State star Kawhi Leonard to the NBA draft is only the second biggest basketball story in town.

Leonard’s decision to apply for the draft after his sophomore season might cause some angst for die-hard Aztecs’ fans, but it’s nothing like the turmoil and tension permeating the University of San Diego campus after the FBI unearthed an alleged point-shaving scandal at the school.

There isn’t anything that rattles the core of an athletic department more than allegations of fixing games and USD is certainly one of the more unlikely places you would expect to be associated with such activity.

The Toreros are the secondary college basketball program in the county and typically draw crowds that don’t even fill half of 5,100-seat Jenny Craig Pavilion, a facility often referred to as “The Slim Gym” per the association with the well-known weight-loss entrepreneur.

Other than the week in March 2008 when the Toreros upset Connecticut for the first NCAA tournament victory in school history, there’s not a lot of discussion about USD basketball in San Diego County.

It certainly is different this week with one of the stars of the 2007-08 squad being among the 10 people identified by the FBI as part of the scandal. All-time leading scorer Brandon Johnson is one of two former USD players involved – the other is Justin Dowdy – and head coach Bill Grier expressed during a Friday news conference that he would be “deeply disappointed and feel betrayed” if the allegations are true.

Former assistant coach T.J. Brown also was allegedly involved in the scheme. He was on the staff of former coach Brad Holland in the 2006-07 season. Grier replaced Holland when that season concluded.

USD is a private university and usually cites the privacy act when there’s even a minor dose of controversy swirling. But this type of allegation requires some public comments, particularly when people nationwide will think of the bribery scandal first, second and third whenever the Toreros are mentioned in the near future.

University president Mary Lyons and athletic director Ky Snyder both expressed shock that something like that could happen at the cozy Catholic university.

Snyder hit the nail on the head with one of his remarks.

“Other than a tragedy happening to a student-athlete, there is nothing worse that can happen in collegiate athletics than point shaving,” Snyder said. “In sports, there is nothing worse than losing the integrity of the game. It calls into question all who are involved – was it real or was it not?”

It certainly is real that USD is dealing with something pretty serious. And the attention that comes along with the case will keep the Toreros in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Perhaps you saw the faces of Lyons and Snyder repeatedly on ESPN on Friday. Kind of stunning to see the USD president – few people in San Diego could have told you what color Lyons’ hair was prior to this week – and athletic director on the nation’s most influential sports channel.

The two got more air time nationally than Kawhi Leonard did Thursday when he decided to enter the NBA draft. That piece of news also was a bit more expected with Leonard drawing the interest of every NBA team while earning second-team All-American honors during San Diego State’s school-record 34-3 season.

Leonard will be the first Aztecs player to be drafted in the first round since Michael Cage in 1984 so it’s hard to question his decision. It would have been nice to see him return as the star attraction of next season’s team – the Aztecs also lose three senior starters – but that guaranteed multimillion dollars he’ll earn over the next two seasons trump another few semesters of carrying books around campus.

At least Leonard will be earning his money in a traditional manner. Unlike the 10 people charged in the USD scandal, a situation that will prompt many more headlines in coming months as more details about the scheme emerge and the case plays itself out in court.

Weird that questions like “How about those Padres?” or “Who do you think A.J. Smith is targeting in the first round?” are secondary questions in mid-April.

There’s now a more pressing question:

“What was Brandon Johnson thinking when he decided to be part of fixing a game in February of 2010?”

  1. Kent M Callahan says:

    wow, way to stay classy usd

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