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Rich Stevens column: UC coach has no choice but to alter recruiting practices

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There might be a different direction taken in the considerably successful college coaching career of Mark Downey.

Check that. There has to be a different direction taken if Downey expects his career to continue to be successful.

In other words, no more accepting mostly junior college transfers and any ... any with checkered pasts.

Check that again. Even moderately questionable pasts.

That's my response to the basketball side of the arrests of three now former University of Charleston players - all transfers.

The recent, and rapidly developing, news of the arrests of UC's Terrell Lipkins, Robbie Dreher and Quincy Washington for an alleged assault and robbery that left a man with a scalp laceration and a fractured wrist, caused an immediate response from University of Charleston President Edwin Welch.

A statement from Welch read: "The conduct which they are alleged to have committed is deplorable and violates university policies and expectations. They have been evicted from the residence halls, removed from the university's basketball team, and further campus disciplinary actions are in progress. We will continue to cooperate fully with authorities as they continue their investigation."

Dreher had an arrest record from his days at Winthrop University. He was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct in April 2011, forcing him to voluntarily withdraw his athletic scholarship with the Eagles.

His last game at Winthrop was March 11, 2011 when he had 13 points in the Eagles' 78-73 loss to VMI in the Big South Conference Tournament.

Considered a double transfer, Dreher had to wait for the NCAA's approval to join the Golden Eagles. When he left Winthrop, Dreher was prepared to join the program at Marshall before leaving because his father was ill.

There was a large degree of bending over backwards from Downey to get Dreher in the program. In October, Downey even said, "we don't take bad kids."

Downey is no seer, which doesn't mean the blame doesn't fall on the former Wheeling Jesuit and UC player. Accountability starts at the top, after all.

His recruiting approach worked beautifully at Arkansas Tech.

The former first-team all-state player from the now-defunct Morgantown St. Francis arrived at the campus in Russellville, Ark., in April 2006, inheriting a program that had won just 71 games from 1999-2006. In his four seasons, the Wonder Boys won 77 games and twice reached the NCAA Division II Tournament.

His quickly ascending career put him in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region following his second season (2011-12) at UC. The Golden Eagles fell off this past season, but the future remained bright.

The future looks pretty dim right now.

Downey admits there will be an adjustment to his recruiting, but how much is anybody's guess.

"I don't want to coach a kid who wants to cause problems," said Downey, who pointed out that he hadn't had any issues with any of the three players during their time at UC. "We did our due diligence. Sometimes it's easy to go recruit 12 3.8 grade-point-average guys, go through school, win a lot of games, but I want to make a difference in somebody's life.

"I still want to make a difference. Again, these are still accusations. Even if it came back and said they're innocent, I can't take those chances anymore."

I was also interested to learn if his credibility with Dr. Welch had been damaged. Welch showed his support for Downey.

"He had a record where none of this has happened and graduated his players, his record has been clean," Welch said. "This is certainly an exception to anything that has happened before. I hope folks look at the body of work."

Downey will enter his fourth season with the Golden Eagles with a nine-player roster. Lipkins, Dreher and Washington already have been removed from the school's athletic website, leaving UC without three players who accounted for 41.6 percent of the team's offense last season.

The 5-foot-11 Lipkins, a first-team All-West Virginia Conference player last season, led the team in scoring at 17.4 points per game. Dreher was third at 11.1 and Washington was fifth at 8.9. The trio combined for 47 starts.

Lipkins and Washington, who had one year of eligibility remaining, are the surprising stories.

Lipkins, the cousin of former UC standout Marco Richardson, had no red flags since graduating from Canton McKinley in 2009 or when playing for Northland Community College in Minnesota.

He showed no signs of poor judgment during a 2011-12 school year when he was ineligible and at home while a part-time student taking online classes.

Washington, a 6-5 transfer from South Carolina Salkehatchie and former South Florence (S.C.) High School standout also entered the program with clean hands.

There is no way to measure how disappointing this story is, first of all, to the victims.

"I'm disappointed, down, ashamed and I feel for the victims," Downey said. "This shouldn't happen under any circumstances."

This situation will label Downey as a coach who brings in bad kids, which isn't fair. In nine years as a head coach, Downey said he has graduated more than 90 percent of his players.

He shouldn't be labeled as such, any more than every junior college transfer should be considered a high-risk athlete.

That doesn't mean the borderline guys will get a chance at UC.

I'm not sure they should, either.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.

 


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