Hobbs defends Williams, blasts Post story and hints at maliciousness

The University launched a full-scale offensive Sunday against a front-page Washington Post article that questioned the academic credentials of men’s basketball senior Omar Williams. GW head coach Karl Hobbs defended his recruiting practices while conceding that the NCAA Clearinghouse system, which is designed to certify collegiate athletes, is flawed.

“We recruit and do things the right way,” Hobbs said in a phone interview late Sunday night.

Hobbs said there were other motivations in the publication time of the story.

“I’m also not so naive to think that this didn’t happen because we are number six in the country,” he said of his No. 6/7 Colonials (USA Today/Associated Press). “To think that it wasn’t calculated to draw more attention to the issue is naive.”

Hobbs made reference to a paragraph in The Post’s story that quoted a Philadelphia-area college coach who said Williams “(didn’t have a) chance of getting into our school.”

“I also believe that it was competitively motivated,” Hobbs said of the quote.

Philadelphia area schools include Villanova, La Salle, Temple, Saint Joseph’s and the University of Pennsylvania. La Salle, Temple and Saint Joseph’s are members of the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Washington Post assistant managing editor for sports Emilio Garcia-Ruiz said the newspaper stands behind its story.

“We stand 100 percent behind the story and the reporting done by Mark Schlabach,” Garcia-Ruiz said in a phone interview Sunday evening. “The issue is a kid who went to high school for seven years and didn’t do any work for the last two years got admitted to GW.”

Because The Hatchet interviewed Garcia-Ruiz early Sunday evening, he could not be reached to comment on statements made by Hobbs, who talked to The Hatchet late Sunday night.

Williams, whom The Post reported did not graduate high school, first attended Ben Franklin High School, where missed practices and lackadaisical attendance relegated him to the bench. Williams then enrolled in Philadelphia Christian Academy, where he played for Darryl Schofield, The Post reported. When Schofield got fired, Williams followed the coach to Celestial Tabernacle Academy, where teachers told The Post that Williams and other players rarely attended classes. The Post reported that grades were changed at Celestial.

Williams’ final school, Lutheran High School, burnt down and Williams moved to the unrelated Lutheran High. Schofield said Williams completed the courseload required of him, The Post reported.

Lutheran, along with Celestial Prep and other Philadelphia area schools. have before Sunday been the subject of investigations by The Post and The New York Times. The schools have been characterized as “diploma mills” where most students play basketball and do little to no work.

The NCAA Clearinghouse, an independent organization charged with certifying players for Division I scholarships, certified Williams’ purported transcript, and he announced his signing with GW on Dec. 11, 2001, six years after entering Ben Franklin High School in Philadelphia.

Williams, an integral part of the team’s unparalleled success this year, declined comment Sunday night.

Hobbs said that the issue surrounding the clearinghouse is bigger than Williams.

“Thank God he did slip through the cracks,” Hobbs said. “To me, it’s about the sacrifice a single mother had to make to see her son on Senior Day and no mother should have to be subjected to (the article) when her son is succeeding academically.”

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said Schlabach “mischaracterized (the athlete admission) process terribly” in his Sunday article.

“The story as written infers that being cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse is tantamount to admission to GW, which is absolutely not true,” Chernak said Sunday in a phone interview.

Chernak said he thought that using Williams as an example was unfair because the Philadelphia native is scheduled to graduate on time in May.

“What my problem is holding hostage individuals and blame them and use them as examples,” Chernak said. Other Division I basketball players have had similar academic experiences’ to the ones Williams is reported to have had.

“As a private school we reserve the right to accept any student into GW,” Chernak said. Chernak added that graduating high school is not a requirement for admission into GW. He did not indicate whether GW would change its recruiting practices in response to the recent investigations.

In an unprecedented move, the University’s Office of Communications issued a news release Sunday to the entire GW community that expressed its support of Williams and fellow Philadelphia native sophomore Maureece Rice, who attended Lutheran Prep. GW previously used blast e-mails to inform community members about procedural issues, such as emergency preparations and class cancellations.

“We felt so strongly about going on the offensive backing Omar,” Tracy Schario, GW’s director of Media Relations, said Sunday. “We wanted everyone who may be touched by this to know the University’s position.”

-Will Dempster contributed to this report.

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