LOS ANGELES, Los Angeles Times
A year after JaRon Rush left UCLA early to try the NBA draft, federal documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times and subsequent interviews with Bruin administrators shed new light on what and when the school knew about the player’s eligibility concerns.
As early as spring of 1998, before Rush signed a letter of intent to attend UCLA, Athletic Director Peter Dalis had heard “street talk” about Rush accepting money from a benefactor, Kansas City businessman Tom Grant.
Dalis checked with the NCAA, which had investigated the matter and essentially gave Rush a clean slate to sign with UCLA. Signing with Kansas, which earlier had received an oral commitment from Rush, might have been a trickier proposition because Grant is a Jayhawk booster.
In January 1999, Rush received a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Kansas City indicating he was part of a federal investigation. The focus of the probe was an undisclosed amount of money Rush received from Myron C. Piggie, his AAU coach.
According to federal documents, Rush informed Lavin of the letter and told him it concerned his receiving money and a 1998 Chevrolet Blazer from Piggie. Rush told agents he believed Lavin was not concerned about the investigation because the money was not given to Rush to go to UCLA, and eventually the investigation would go away.”
Nonetheless, Lavin told Dalis about the letter. Dalis immediately faxed a copy to David Price, NCAA vice president for enforcement and student-athlete reinstatement. Price told Dalis there was no question about the eligibility of Rush.
We knew the FBI was investigating,” Price said. We just didn’t know what they had until later. We certainly were in no position to do anything, and I don’t think (UCLA) was in any better position to do anything than we were.”
So no one flinched when Rush played in the NCAA tournament two months later. The Bruins lost to Detroit Mercy in the first round, but still collected US$100,800 in tournament revenue.
In December 1999, shortly after Rush testified before a grand jury in Kansas City, two FBI agents showed up at UCLA to interview members of the athletic department. Although the agents did not reveal exactly what was told to the grand jury, UCLA administrators surmised from the type of questions that Rush had received large amounts of money from Piggie.
Fearing Rush might have violated NCAA rules, the Bruins declared him ineligible. The school also began its own investigation, hiring outside counsel to do so.
I know for a fact that no member of the coaching staff knew about it,” Dalis told reporters Dec. 10, 1999. The coaching staff found out about it before me.”
Dalis now says the it” referred to infractions that would jeopardize Rush’s eligibility. He said to that point, no such jeopardy existed.
In January 2000, UCLA passed along the information it had gathered to the NCAA, along with an appeal to reinstate Rush.
At some point, Rush spoke with NCAA investigators, but in a later FBI interview advised that the information he provided to the NCAA was untruthful and not accurate and that he did so because he was covering his butt.”
Two weeks later, the NCAA informed it had suspended Rush for a total of 44 games — 15 for receiving US$200 from an agent, and 29 for the benefits he received from Piggie.
UCLA appealed again. This time, the NCAA reduced the second part of the penalty from 29 to nine games, eight of which Rush already had sat out.
Because it turned out that Rush was ineligible for the Detroit Mercy game, the Bruins had to repay 45% of their tournament revenue, or US$45,321. Had the school known he was ineligible, it might have had to repay 90% of the revenue.
Price said he was pleased by the way UCLA handled the situation.