Standards of recruitment need scrutiny

Around 1:30 a.m. on the morning of April 12, Yerkin Abdrakmanov, a student at Providence College, almost lost his life to meaningless violence. On the way back to his dorm room from a nearby convenience store, Abdrakmanov crossed paths with members of the school’s basketball team, who had already decided they were going to beat to a pulp the next student they saw.

That student was Abdrakmanov, and they did just that. According to students at the college, there was blood on the sidewalk outside campus the next morning where the incident had occurred, red stains across the stonewall that borders the property.
According to those same students and the Providence Journal, Abdrakmanov is a foreign student from Kazakhstan who is a popular Residential Assistant in his dorm and a “brilliant student.” He has no family in the country except the friends he’s made during his time at school.

Abdrakmanov was transported to Rhode Island Hospital Trauma Center, and according to students who are friends with him at the college, will require multiple facial reconstruction surgeries. Providence police have reported that the two players being charged with felony assault had spent the night at a bar, and there is no evidence to suggest the players and the student had ever met before. USA Today quoted college spokesman Edward Caron as saying, “The two individuals indicated they were going to strike the very first victim that came around.” Abdrakmanov was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Kyle Wright, a former Providence player who quit the team in March, openly blamed head coach Keno Davis and the rest of the coaching staff in a note posted on his Facebook page.

“This Providence coaching staff is not preparing these boys to take on the world and become men, rather they are creating an environments [sic] which fosters childish behavior and encourages a lack of respect,” says Wright. “These boys came to Providence Collee [sic] to improve as basketball players, students, and become men and now they may be leaving as felons.”

Wright’s words demonstrate the failures of the current Providence College basketball program. But the sad reality is, these kinds of devastating occurrences are simply not unusual anymore in college basketball. Just a few weeks ago, four basketball players at St. Bonaventure instigated an on-campus fight that resulted in the stabbing of two men. The players were later charged by police for harassment and disorderly conduct. Last fall, Louisville’s Terrence Jennings and Jerry Smith took part in a violent restaurant fight while Seton Hall’s Robert Mitchell was arrested in March for breaking into a home and taking hostages.

More recently, a handful of St. John’s men’s and women’s basketball players were involved in an altercation where a friend of the team was shot five times. According to the NY Daily News, “Sources said an argument broke out inside the pool hall between St. John’s players and another group.”

In fairness to those involved, one of the St. John’s players was described as “heroic,” dragging the victim out of further harm’s way, and that the whole argument was simply a misunderstanding. This is a testament to a St. John’s program that is unlike the one described by Kyle Wright. In fact, many claim Norm Roberts’ biggest achievement in his time as the coach of the men’s team was bringing in recruits that were quality people, not just as players, but as men. In the wake of a rape scandal in 2003 that muddied the program’s reputation and integrity, Norm needed to focus on the kind of kids he was bringing to campus as much as he needed to focus on winning games. He did just that.

If one thing can be learned from the Yerkin Abdrakmanov tragedy, it’s the importance of integrity when recruiting in lucrative sports programs that schools like Providence and St. John’s thrive on.

Bill Reynolds, a sports columnist for the Providence Journal, put it rather succinctly in his column last week reacting to the incident: “This is the fault line all the schools walk, the price they pay for too many kids with suspect grades, too many kids from difficult home situations, too many kids whose schools hope they can take advantage of the incredible opportunity they’ve been given, the kind that can not only change their histories, but
their families’ histories, too.”

Standout athletic skill should not be the only important characteristic in an athlete, and much too often big schools are willing to look the other way in order to win more games. Sports programs like the one at Providence College may be competing in the best division with the most exposure, but when tragedies like this occur, it’s obvious that the community and its students are being placed second.

In a time when talented athletes often earn full scholarships for the national recognition they could potentially earn their school in the athletic spotlight, athletic programs need to judge their recruits more carefully, not just as athletes, but as people and students.

Sports programs may lead to national exposure, but as we’ve unfortunately seen, sometimes athletes bring their
school the wrong kind of exposure.