By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
One of the darkest moments in West Virginia University’s basketball history grew even darker Saturday when The New York Times ran a pair of articles which claimed that one-time Mountaineer player Jonathan Hargett had been promised $60,000 by WVU during his recruitment but had received only $20,000 of it.
The second article quoted former WVU basketball coach Dan Dakich, who replaced longtime coach Gale Catlett following the 2001-02 season but resigned after eight days as coach after learning of the Hargett situation, as saying President David Hardesty threatened to “destroy” him if he “went any further with this” when Dakich told him what Hargett had told him.
The allegations were completely denied by Catlett and Hardesty, as well as other WVU officials and former coaches.
Hargett, who turned 30 this weekend, is a one-time basketball prodigy that some predicted would become a collegiate and NBA great out of Richmond, Va. He played only one year at the school in a season that led to the resignation of Catlett.
Hargett currently is serving the final months of a five-year prison term in Virginia after being convicted of drug possession with intent to sell.
The article, written by Pete Thamel, a respected college basketball writer, said that WVU got Hargett by offering to hire his brother to a low-level coaching position, which was allowable under NCAA rules, but his brother died before going there.
Thamel wrote that Hargett did not want to attend WVU but went after being offered $20,000 a year to go to the school. Thamel wrote that no payments ever were verified.
“If he got money from someone, it wasn’t from West Virginia University,” Catlett told The Times. “I can tell you this: As far as I know, that’s totally incorrect. I don’t know who he got the money from or what went on.”
Hargett claimed he never received the full $20,000 that was promised the first year, getting between $13,000 and $17,000. Hargett also said his mother told him she was given $5,000 “in a bag” from assistant Chris Cheeks and that she gave him 10 $100 bills for a shopping spree with his girlfriend.
“Without a doubt, no one affiliated with West Virginia paid him anything,” Cheeks said. “We got Jonathan Hargett because of my relationship with Mike, who was my assistant.”
That season WVU got off to a fast 7-2 start with Hargett hitting two game-winning shots, but it soon went south, the Mountaineers losing 18 of the final 19 games and going 1-15 in the Big East, Catlett resigning before the year ended.
The article went on to report the Dakich situation this way:
“Dan Dakich, hired from Bowling Green as Catlett’s replacement, recalled Hargett telling him that Catlett and Cheeks were not ‘honorable men’ because ‘they promised me $60,000 and only gave me $20,000.’ Asked about Dakich’s recollection of his comment, Hargett said, ‘I ain’t never said that to him, but he mapped it out, though.’”
The article said that Hargett laughed: “That’s accurate. That’s exactly what happened.”
Dakich decided that the situation at West Virginia was out of control and, after eight days, decided to return to Bowling Green.
“What I found was a culture of dishonesty and that had been there for a while,” he said of West Virginia. For its part, West Virginia conducted an internal review of the program, which was forwarded to the NCAA, that found no wrongdoing on the part of the university.
Dakich did his own investigation and went to Hardesty.
This is the way Thamel reported that:
Dakich recalls Hardesty telling him, “If you go any further with this, we’ll destroy you.”
Dakich’s wife, Jackie, who was present for the meeting, stood up and said, “What do you mean by ‘destroy us?’” In a separate phone interview, Jackie Dakich echoed her husband’s account.
Hardesty called Dan and Jackie Dakich’s story a “gross exaggeration.” He said he remembered the meeting as one where he was trying to keep Dakich at West Virginia.
“I cannot remember the words that were said,” he said. “I did not intend to threaten him. At no time in this process did I do that. That would be so strange.”
Hardesty, who is now a law professor at West Virginia, added, “I did not condone and do not condone and would never condone a corrupt program.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.