Impropriety ruins O'Brien at OSU

Posted: Wednesday, June 09, 2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio Ohio State fired basketball coach Jim O'Brien on Tuesday after he admitted giving a recruit $6,000 five years ago.

Athletic director Andy Geiger said he offered O'Brien the opportunity to resign but the coach refused to step down.

''I am troubled that a rule was admittedly violated and it took us five years to find out about it,'' Geiger said.

In a statement released through his attorney, O'Brien did not dispute that he helped potential recruit Aleksandar Radojevic.

''I am advised that my firing is because I was asked to and tried to give assistance to a young man's family who was in dire financial straits,'' said O'Brien, who was 133-88 in seven seasons as Ohio State's coach. ''The assistance in no way influenced the young man in his decision to attend OSU and, indeed, the young man did not enroll at OSU.''

Geiger would not say whether the money was O'Brien's or came from another source.

''My understanding is it was not the school's,'' Geiger said.

Geiger said O'Brien indicated he gave the money to Radojevic because the player's father had died, his mother was unable to work and he had three siblings. Radojevic, a 7-foot-3 center from Yugoslavia, was recruited and signed by O'Brien. Before he ever played for Ohio State, however, the NCAA ruled he was ineligible for accepting $13,000 from a professional team in Europe. Radojevic then entered the NBA draft and was taken with the No. 12 pick by the Toronto Raptors. He played for Denver and Milwaukee before being cut by the Bucks in 2001.

Ohio State learned of O'Brien's payment to Radojevic through a lawsuit against O'Brien by a woman who said she provided housing, meals and clothes for another Ohio State recruit from the same war-torn area, Slobodan Savovic. He played four years with the Buckeyes, including the team that made the 1999 Final Four under O'Brien.

The lawsuit says that then-Ohio State assistant Paul Biancardi, now the head coach at Wright State, also handled money for Savovic and Radojevic.

Biancardi was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Wright State athletic director Mike Cusack said he had not seen any documents.

Geiger said he had asked O'Brien about the lawsuit and was told by the coach that it was a minor problem and would go away. On April 24, Geiger said O'Brien told him that depositions in the lawsuit would reveal the payment made to Radojevic.

Geiger said he had asked O'Brien whether the coach was aware he had violated NCAA rules.

''He admitted he knew that he did,'' Geiger said.

Kay Hawes, an associate director of media relations with the NCAA, said the NCAA is investigating O'Brien and the Ohio State basketball program.

''The NCAA enforcement staff has been alerted to the situation by Ohio State University and is working with the Ohio State athletic staff to investigate any violations that may have occurred,'' she said.

O'Brien's contract which paid him more than $850,000 per year specifies that the university can fire him for any NCAA violations.

Geiger said associate head coach Rick Boyages would take over on an interim basis while the search for a new head coach takes place.

O'Brien, 368-305 in 22 years as a head coach, came to Ohio State in 1997 from his alma mater, Boston College. He had also been a head coach at St. Bonaventure. O'Brien took over the Buckeyes from Randy Ayers, who was fired after four consecutive losing seasons and NCAA probation for paying $60 to a potential recruit.

The Buckeyes finished 14-16 in 2003-04, missing the postseason for the first time in six years, their worst showing under O'Brien. Before the season, O'Brien had surgery to relieve a problem with a disc in his upper back. The procedure damaged his one of his vocal cords and his voice was reduced to a whisper.

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