The First Game's a Benefit at the Prison
Bill Frieder, Arizona State University's new basketball coach, sits in an aisle seat on the flight from Durango, Colorado, to Phoenix.
Frieder is wearing an oversized white tee shirt. On the back of the shirt is a message announcing to one and all that he's "Switched to Channel 3." One doesn't know whether Frieder enjoys wearing the sloppy-looking tee shirt in public or must do so as part of his lucrative television-show contract.
Frieder busies himself the entire flight reading a book that clearly fascinates him.
The book is Personal Fouls by Peter Golenbock. It details the cynicism and corruption surrounding college basketball at North Carolina State University under its big-name coach, Jim Valvano.
Valvano's a coach who has learned that the quickest way to succeed is to recruit players who are great athletes even if they're unqualified as college students.
The connection with Frieder is real. Anyone who saw the television interviews with his former Michigan players after the NCAA play-offs would quickly surmise that they were also marginal students at best. North Carolina State under Valvano won the NCAA title in 1983. It ranks among the top teams in the country year after year. Frieder's Michigan team won the title last year.
But Valvano's methods now have been exposed in Golenbock's book and his future is questionable.
As the flight progresses, Frieder keeps turning pages.
When the announcement comes ordering passengers to prepare for landing at Phoenix, Frieder hands the book over his head to his wife sitting in the row behind him.
The expression on Frieder's face as he does so indicates how distasteful the book about Valvano has been to him.
But what about Frieder's own recruiting problems?
His first days as Arizona State coach have been a public relations disaster. First, of course, was his decision to leave Michigan and accept the ASU job on the eve of last year's national tournament.
Frieder was promptly told to take a walk by Bo Schembechler, the Michigan athletic director. Bo announced that he was determined a Michigan man rather than an Arizona State man would coach Michigan in the tournament. Frieder's assistant took over and the team won the title without Frieder on the sidelines.
Recently, it's been revealed that Frieder's financial arrangements at ASU contain clauses making it possible for him to earn as much as $700,000 a year. Suddenly, everyone understands what made him desert Michigan.
Frieder's package includes: $40,000 guaranteed profit from a basketball camp; $47,000 in relocation costs; $25,000 in moving expenses; a possible $121,000 television contract; $50,000 from KTAR radio; and $160,000 shoe contract with Nike.
The above doesn't include the attendance and play-off clauses. He'll be paid $20,000 more if ASU finishes with a better than .500 season. He'll get another $20,000 if average attendance tops 7,500 and another $30,000 if attendance goes over 11,000. He'll also receive escalating bonuses of up to five weeks' salary should ASU win the national championship. The lure of these astonishing payoffs prompted Frieder to dump the players he'd recruited to Michigan only days before the tournament he promised them was the dream of his life.
And now there is Frieder's recruitment of Sam Mack, formerly of Iowa State University, to consider.
Mack is a superior college performer. As a first-year player at Iowa State last season, Mack delighted fans with his leaping ability and artistic dunks. He was one of Iowa State's top scorers, a player of potential NBA caliber.
Mack is transferring to ASU where he will sit out a year before becoming eligible to play.
Mack says that he and Frieder have decided to forget about the incident at the Burger King restaurant in Ames, Iowa, that precipitated his transfer.
Mack says he has physical and emotional scars and that he's been through a very trying time.
Actually, Mack was shot twice by Ames police who came to halt an armed robbery at the restaurant last March 30.
Police reports say that Mack and Levin White, a defensive back on the Iowa State football team, entered the restaurant just before closing time and began herding the customers and employees into freezers.
Mack carried a hunting knife. White carried a .22-caliber rifle partially covered by his jacket. White had previously attended the University of Southern California on a football scholarship. He left there after pleading guilty to robbing a West Covina store with a sawed-off shotgun in August 1987.
Chris Anderson, 21, a Burger King employee, at first thought he could bluff Mack and Levin out of their robbery attempt.
Ironically, Anderson is also a student at Iowa State and a basketball fan who attended the school's games. "I think he's a great player who'll help Arizona State," Anderson says.
On that night, Anderson refused to move immediately into the storage locker upon command. He says White responded by firing a shot into the wall above his head. Anderson decided to go into the locker as instructed.
Annie Konek, 21, was also working in the Burger King that night.
"When I heard the shot," Konek says, "I climbed out the drive-in window and ran to the police station. It was only two blocks away. A cop saw me running and I got in his car. It was shift change for the police and within minutes, the Burger King was surrounded." The robbery game plan was that Mack, the basketball player, would force the customers into one cooler while the football player would herd the employees into another.
This part of the plan worked. What made the plan go awry was the firing of the shot which frightened Konek and prompted her to climb through the window to escape.
Shots were fired. Mack was struck twice in the legs. He and Levin surrendered. Police arrested them and recovered the $600 they'd taken from the cash register.
At the trial, White, the football player with a previous offense, pleaded guilty. He testified that Mack had boasted to him that he was a member of a Chicago street gang who already had one killing under his belt. He also said the robbery was Mack's idea and the motive was Mack's need to buy drugs.
White was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Mack pleaded innocent. He testified that he had been forced into participating in the robbery against his will.
Iowa State basketball coach Johnny Orr was a character witness for Mack. Two of the jurors were Iowa State season ticketholders.
In what has been described as a "totally surprising verdict," Mack was found innocent after the jury deliberated five hours.
Mack had spent two years at Iowa State after being recruited from the south suburbs of Chicago. He was ineligible to play his freshman year 1987-88 because he failed to meet the qualifications of Prop 48.
Mack played during his second year, averaging 11.8 points and 6.1 rebounds. He can play another two years at Arizona State after sitting out this season as a transfer player.
The connection with Arizona State is an obvious one. Frieder worked for years as an assistant to Iowa State's coach Orr when Orr was head coach of Michigan.
But the decision to bring Mack is an ominous signal. Frieder's huge salary depends on filling the arena and making the national tournament.
Does this mean that everything connected with the normal educational process will be sacrificed to bring ASU a winner? Frieder, of course, is paid bonuses only to be concerned about ASU's success. But who will protect the interests of all those Burger King stores while Mack's in town?
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