Two Cents: Sometimes Sports is the Only Way Out for Troubled Youngsters (1/21/05)

(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)

In Wednesday’s column I mentioned that the University of Memphis ruled sophomore forward Sean Banks ineligible for the second semester. Banks now becomes a member of a most dubious fraternity of Tigers who preferred doing things their way to the right way.

The most recent examples of this are Billy Richmond and Jimmie ‘Snap’ Hunter, two Memphis prep products who could have been superstars if they had just concentrated on the now, instead of living their dream before it came to fruition.

Last I heard of Snap, he was trying to catch on in the Orlando Magic’s summer league. I don’t think it worked out too well for him. Lord only knows where Richmond wound up, I think he is running his mouth somewhere for a Division 2 school.

Banks was the most gifted of the three. A long, tall, quick forward with inside and outside ability, Banks was named ESPN.com’s freshman of the year and led the Tigers to an NCAA bid last season.

This year started with promise, as NBA scouts were drooling over the sophomore selected as a Conference USA preseason first-teamer. But Banks butted heads with the coaching staff and players, and eventually found himself with a literal black eye and a suspension while Memphis couldn’t get in the win column.

Coach Calipari was criticized from the moment he started recruiting Banks, due to some trouble the New Jersey native had while in high school, which included evading the police and allegedly branding a gang insignia onto a teenage girl’s ankle.

His high school coach said that the kid needed to get his act together, and Cal went out on a limb to give him the chance to do that. The change of scenery seemed to help his freshman year, but when he was invited to the 18-Under tryouts in New Jersey this past summer, Banks started backsliding.

Now the question is, should Cal have given him a chance, or should he have left the promising youngster to his own devices? Banks is unlikely to return to school and is considering a jump to the NBA despite an ever-fading reputation with general managers around the league.

I applaud Cal for trying to right the ship of this young man’s life. Calipari was successful in helping Antonio Burks lift himself up from the projects to a draft choice with the Grizzlies so he rightfully thought he could mold another troubled youngster.

Most cynical observers would note that Cal took a chance on Banks purely because it would benefit his program.

If he were only concerned with his program, he probably wouldn’t have done it. Look at the state of Tiger hoops now; it’s at the lowest point since Calipari rescued it from the depths of obscurity.

A very important part of sports is providing an outlet for troubled, underprivileged youths and providing those same youths with something stable in their often-turbulent lives. It’s not always about wins; helping is its own reward.

Another troubled athlete who could have used some help from one of my favorite teams was in the news this week. Barrett Robbins, the center who went AWOL on the eve of the Super Bowl two years ago, was critically wounded by police in Florida who were investigating a burglary.

News broke Wednesday that Robbins, if he recovers, will be charged with three counts of felony attempted murder for fighting with the police who were initially just going to question him.

One of the reasons Robbins had his problems before Super Sunday, was because he was a diagnosed bi-polar who had stopped taking his meds. The Raiders afterwards pretty much left him in the lurch, but gave him another chance to make the team this off-season.

He was cut after failing a physical that just happened to come days after he tested positive for steroids and testified before the Balco Committee. It seems a little coincidental to me.

I know that the nature of professional sports is dog eat dog, but I can’t help but think that the Oakland franchised failed Robbins a little bit. Bi-polar is an all too real disease and maybe the Raiders should have helped their former All-Pro deal with his disease.

Without help from his brothers and father figures in the Raider organization, the wayward Robbins was left to his own devices, which obviously didn’t include taking his meds.

Did Oakland do all they could to help Robbins? Did Cal do too much or too little to try and straighten out Banks? I’m not sure.

But the difference to me is one of them tried, and the other just threw their hands in the air. But the sad thing is, the outcome might turn out to be the same.



Categories: Memphis Tigers, sports

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