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Irish May Have Cheated Themselves of a Winner

Matt Doherty might be the best coach in the country outside of Jim Calhoun. (I use his name because, after a decade of derision for failing to win big games at Connecticut, he will be the flavor of the year among college basketball coaches until next March.)

But Notre Dame can’t know for sure about Doherty, and until he proves himself as a head coach, the Irish will have to live with the knowledge that they had a sure thing in Rick Majerus and turned him away.

He would have had Notre Dame back in the Final Four before his first full class of recruits graduated.

And, based on the academic records of his Utah players, they would have graduated.

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Majerus is so committed to academics that the cover of the Utes’ basketball media guide this season features a photograph of him at Andre Miller’s graduation ceremony. Two starters on his team that advanced to the title game last season were academic All-Americans and nine of his players this season are on the honor roll at Utah.

Notre Dame administrators would have known about that if they had more closely read the autobiography Majerus recently wrote with Gene Wojciechowski, “My Life on a Napkin.”

Instead, they appear to have read only the section dealing with Majerus’ academic shortcomings at Marquette. He told Wojciechowski he is conflicted when disciplining players for cheating in class because he also cheated.

Three decades later, Notre Dame should be able to forgive him for that. Instead, someone in a high position--someone above Athletic Director Mike Wadsworth, who recommended Majerus--apparently used that anecdote and an ill-advised joke by Majerus about his lapsed Catholicism to reject him.

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I normally wouldn’t give a flip who coaches Notre Dame basketball. But I hate to see a good man have his character questioned.

Notre Dame administrators say they didn’t do that, going to the extraordinary length of distributing a press release to deny that character was an issue.

I hope that’s true. But it’s impossible to believe they questioned his coaching.

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Del Harris to Pepperdine? . . .

That rumor was spreading rapidly Tuesday, and while it couldn’t be confirmed, it seems like a good fit for Harris and Pepperdine. . . .

There has never been any question about his knowledge of Xs and O’s and he might be able to get college players to listen to him. . . .

One thing Harris can say about his time with the Lakers: Shaquille O’Neal never had a one-rebound game, as he did Monday night. . . .

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I don’t like ripping on Shaq because he’s one of the few NBA players you can count on to play hard game after game. But one rebound? . . .

As former Oklahoma City University coach Abe Lemons once said to a player after a miserable game, “You scored one more point than a dead man.” . . .

John Fox, who started at quarterback for USC two seasons ago, is learning another new position during spring practice. After trying tight end last season, he’s now at linebacker. . . .

The spring quarter begins Monday at UCLA, just in time for J.P. Losman to join the Bruins when they open spring practice the next day. . . .

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Losman, one of five quarterbacks battling to succeed Cade McNown, played last season for Venice High, then graduated early. . . .

The Bruins are changing their defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3 in an attempt to put more pressure on quarterbacks and take some off their secondary. . . .

If you have tickets to the Dodger opener Monday, you’ll be interested in today’s Cactus League game between the Arizona and Chicago White Sox triple-A teams. . . .

Randy Johnson will pitch for Arizona. The condition of his tender groin afterward will determine whether he opens the season as the starting pitcher against the Dodgers or on the disabled list. . . .

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If it’s the latter, Kevin Brown’s counterpart on opening day probably will be Todd Stottlemyre. . . .

Here’s a shock: Jeff Van Gundy and Latrell Sprewell are at odds. . . .

Memo to Van Gundy: Wear turtlenecks.

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While wondering if Major League Soccer realizes how important Mauricio Cienfuegos is to the Galaxy, I was thinking: Kurt Rambis would have enjoyed playing against Dennis Rodman more than coaching him, Duke would have been better prepared if it played in a tougher conference, Connecticut finally has a men’s team its women’s team can be proud of.

Randy Harvey can be reached at his e-mail address: randy.harvey@latimes.com.


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