Two weeks after he was placed on paid administrative leave after an allegation of an NCAA rules violation, Georgia Tech assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie faces an uncertain future.
The NCAA, with Tech’s assistance, is continuing an investigation into the allegation, with no set end point. LaBarrie has been told not to contact anyone with the team, and Tech players, coaches and staff are under the same restrictions with him.
Two AAU basketball coaches who know LaBarrie well – Darren Darby of Atlanta Xpress and Darryl Hardin of 1Family in Florida – told the AJC that the investigation stems from an incident involving a prospect on an official visit who did not sign with the school and is unrelated to the ongoing FBI investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball, corroborating details in an earlier ESPN report.
The visit took place in last year’s recruiting cycle, meaning that it was a player who is now a college freshman. (Parents or high-school coaches of a handful of Tech’s local recruiting targets, Duke’s Wendell Carter, Florida State’s M.J. Walker and Ikechukwu Obiagu and Georgia’s Rashaun Hammonds, had no knowledge of their son or former player’s involvement.)
Darby also said that the alleged violation did not involve money.
“It’d be a blip on the radar screen,” Darby said. “It’s definitely not typical of who Darryl LaBarrie is and how he goes about his business.”
Through a spokesman, athletic director Todd Stansbury has declined comment, as have other school officials, as the investigation is ongoing. Likewise, coach Josh Pastner has been advised to refrain from comment.
When the NCAA completes its investigation, it will present its findings to Tech officials, who at that point will have to decide on a course of action. Should the NCAA find evidence of wrongdoing, it’s conceivable that the school could suspend or even dismiss LaBarrie.
In the meantime, Pastner has tabbed compliance and recruiting director Julian Swartz as LaBarrie’s stand-in on the three-man assistant coach staff. The move was necessary because NCAA rules permit only the four coaches and two graduate assistants to participate in practice and games, and some recruiting duties are restricted only to coaches.
It has been a challenging time for the team, which is reeling from NCAA suspensions to three different players, an injury to preseason All-ACC guard Josh Okogie and a 4-4 start in which the Jackets have been upset by Grambling State and Wofford.
The absence of LaBarrie might weigh heaviest. After playing for Bobby Cremins and Paul Hewitt and then coaching one season for Hewitt, LaBarrie’s return to Tech in May 2016 as a part of Pastner’s staff was celebrated by fans and former Tech players, as one of their own had come back to help rebuild the once mighty Jackets.
With a reputation as a developer of talent and a top-notch recruiter, LaBarrie further had the credentials of a Tech graduate. Additionally, with extensive connections within the state’s high-school and AAU scene, Pastner probably couldn’t have found a better fit for his staff than LaBarrie, who was an assistant coach at Georgia State for the previous five seasons.
That being the case, that LaBarrie is in this situation came as a shock. Darby, the coach of one of Georgia’s top AAU programs, has known LaBarrie more than 10 years, dating to the first years of the Tech grad’s coaching career.
“I think that Darryl is definitely one of the good guys in the whole basketball recruiting game,” Darby said. “I’ve dealt with a lot of coaches and a lot of recruiters and a lot of players, and Darryl by far is the truest guy that I’ve dealt with.”
Wheeler High coach Larry Thompson said he likewise was surprised at the news of LaBarrie being put on leave.
“Standup guy, great guy, is going to do stuff by the book,” Thompson said.
LaBarrie recruited one of Hardin’s players, Nassir Little of Orange Park, Fla. LaBarrie and Pastner were steadfast in their recruitment of Little, who ultimately chose North Carolina.
“LaBarrie and Josh Pastner, I can’t speak highly enough of those two,” Hardin said. “They never ever mentioned anything illegal when it came to ‘Nas’ or anything into, ‘Hey, let’s stretch the rules.’ They told us the rules. As a matter of fact, we learned most of our rules from LaBarrie. They just wanted to make sure it was done by the book.”
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