CHESAPEAKE, Va. — From the playgrounds of Richmond, Va., to the highest levels of international basketball, the exploits of Jonathan Hargett still resonate.
“I can’t blame nobody,” Jonathan Hargett said. “I’ve got to blame myself.” He added: “I made a lot of bad decisions. I don’t have no ego, pride or none of that no more.”
Amar’e Stoudemire, a high school teammate, has called Hargett the best player he has played with at any level.
Carmelo Anthony, a summer league teammate when both were in high school, vividly recalls Hargett, a frenetic 5-foot-11 guard with a 44-inch vertical leap and skills that evoked comparisons to Allen Iverson.
At the London Olympics, Kevin Durant overheard a reporter talking to Anthony about Hargett and asked wide-eyed about his whereabouts.
Durant attended one of the four high schools Hargett attended, but he knows him only by his reputation.
His signature move was his ability to freeze an opponent with a crossover dribble, then blow past him toward the basket, lobbing the ball off the backboard and catching it and dunking it with one hand. It became known simply as a Hargett.
“Especially when you’re talking about memories and things like that from high school basketball and A.A.U. basketball, he’s definitely one of the names that comes up,” Anthony said. “What happened to him?”
The answer is jarring and sadly predictable. Hargett, who turns 30 this weekend, is an inmate at the medium-security Indian Creek Correctional Center here, serving the final months of a nearly five-year sentence for drug possession with intent to sell.
How he ended up here, a decade removed from his one season of major-college basketball and far short of the N.B.A. career that many thought was his destiny, is a story that Hargett told recently in two jailhouse interviews totaling nearly seven hours.
Wearing the standard-issue prison uniform of jeans and a blue button-down shirt that resembled a pajama top, Hargett spoke of dealing with an agent at 15 and of eventually choosing to attend West Virginia because he was offered $20,000.
He also recounted his years of abusing marijuana and making nearly $1,000 a day selling cocaine, a way of life that resulted in his being shot with a bullet that remains lodged in his hip.
His family’s story is even darker. When Hargett was 6, his father died while in prison, lacking even a suit to be buried in. Hargett’s sister did not have a dress to wear to the funeral.
Of his mother’s four other sons, one is dead and the other three are in jail — two for rape and one for armed robbery.
“It’s an American tragedy, in a lot of ways,” said Ernie Nestor, who coached Hargett’s brother Mike at George Mason. Mike died at 30.
Hargett is scheduled to be released Jan. 11. Highly sought after as a high school player — he was a top-10 recruit in the class of 2001, rated higher than the future N.B.A. guards Ben Gordon and T. J. Ford — he rarely receives visitors now.
He spends his days helping make cleaning supplies in the hope of having $500 saved to spend on his two daughters when he leaves prison.
With nearly five years to dwell on the mistakes that kept him from the N.B.A., Hargett has ultimately pinpointed one person for his failures.
“I can’t blame nobody,” he said. “I’ve got to blame myself.”
Around Richmond, the stories about Hargett are told like the basketball version of campfire fables.
How, even as he cycled through high schools, his talent was such that many N.B.A. scouts thought he could be the first point guard to jump directly to the N.B.A.
How he had tattoos on the back of his hands that read “Gifted Hands,” a tribute to his wizardry with the basketball.
Tyrone Sally, a high school and college teammate of Hargett’s, said he still is asked at least twice a week, “Whatever happened to Jonathan Hargett?”
George Lancaster, 67, has coached high school basketball in the Richmond area for nearly 40 years and has helped more than 120 players get college scholarships, dating from Gerald Henderson, who went on to play for the Boston Celtics.
Lancaster said he never coached a more talented player than Hargett. But Lancaster described him as a portrait of contrasts.
Hargett was shy but strong-willed, a thrill to coach yet lazy and stubborn, supremely confident on the court with self-esteem issues away from the gym.
Hargett’s mother, Nancy, worked multiple jobs to help support her six children. With his mother often working and no father figure around, Hargett began to form bad habits.
Lancaster said that after Hargett’s ninth-grade year, he began showing up late to practice, and Lancaster noticed an entourage beginning to form around him.
“He listened to the streets and the people that took care of his immediate needs,” Lancaster said. “Imagine someone walking down an alley with mirrors everywhere.
When you’re looking, you can only see the images and reflection of yourself. You can’t see anything on the horizon.”
Hargett began smoking marijuana in seventh grade and dabbled in selling drugs about then.
By high school, he was smoking whenever he could, often when he woke up in the morning.
“I guess that’s why people in Richmond feel like I was a legend, man, because of how much weed I used to smoke and the way that I used to play,” Hargett said.
“It was crazy. Some people can’t even let alone smoke a cigarette and play half as good as I do, and I’m smoking blunts of marijuana and playing like A. I.” — referring to Iverson.
By college, Sally said, Hargett was “immune” to marijuana. “It was crazy,” Sally said. “No effect.”
In high school, Hargett said, he played a game stoned just to see what it was like. He recalled scoring 23 points in a gymnasium packed with fans.
“Marijuana took some of the edge of nervousness away from me,” he said. “No excuse. I just used to love to get high. I was a social smoker.”
Lancaster said he eventually confronted Hargett, asking him why he was acting differently and threatening that he could be thrown off the team.
Yet Lancaster wonders if he and others ultimately ignored any issues because of Hargett’s dazzling talent.
“I was not aware he had a drug problem,” Lancaster said. “Maybe I had my blinders on. Maybe I was enamored by his skills, by his body and by his person.” Hargett’s issues eventually became apparent.
Lancaster began picking Hargett up for school to make sure he arrived on time, and one day, no matter how many times Lancaster honked his horn, Hargett did not come out.
That night, when Hargett showed up the gymnasium, Lancaster told him that his career at Highland Springs High School was over. He was a sophomore.
“I’ve seen so many kids with a habit,” Lancaster said. “It’ll take you down eventually. Maybe not tod
ay, maybe not tomorrow, but maybe the day after.
Jonathan Hargett risked his college eligibility for a watch, a two-way beeper and a cellphone, the spoils of connections he claims he had with runners, who are intermediaries for agents and financial advisers.
Hargett recalls agreeing to be represented by an agent at 15, the year he got his girlfriend pregnant.
Two years later, Hargett said, he began taking money from a man who worked for a financial adviser. Greg Holloway, the financial adviser, confirms that he gave Hargett and his mother money.
A Holloway employee, Mike Anderson, ingratiated himself with Hargett by giving him a cellphone and a beeper.
“I’m in high school,” Hargett said, his eyes growing wide at the memory. “A two-way beeper? That’s big.”
The person who first tried to truly steer Hargett’s career, he said, was Tyrone Beaman, a former assistant at Alabama who turned up in Richmond after being implicated in a prominent N.C.A.A. scandal.
Beaman was charged by the N.C.A.A. with attempting to solicit money from boosters to pay off a summer league coach in order to land a recruit.
Hargett claims that Beaman was tied to the then-prominent N.B.A. and N.F.L. agents Kevin and Carl Poston.
He recalls flying to Detroit to meet with one of the brothers, a claim Kevin Poston denied in a telephone interview.
Hargett said he had lunch with one of the Poston brothers, which was the extent of his personal interaction with them.
He said that Beaman often discussed the Postons — “He rarely talked about nobody else.”
After the meeting in Detroit, which Kevin Poston denied occurred, Hargett said he and Beaman had lunch in Richmond and he agreed to be represented by the Postons.
“I can’t speak for Tyrone Beaman,” said Kevin Poston, who said his only dealings with Hargett were seeing him play once. “I never authorized anything. He wasn’t with me and never recruited anyone for me. At that time, I did work with Tyrone.”
Hargett said he never got money from the Postons, but said that Beaman gave him a watch.
Beaman, who declined to comment for this article when reached by phone, had become a fixture at his workouts and summer league games.
Through Beaman, Hargett next went to play at Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, N.C., where he teamed with the future N.B.A. players Stoudemire, Marquis Daniels and Jarrett Jack.
Hargett said any academic concerns he had at Highland Springs disappeared at Mount Zion.
“I mean, we really didn’t have to do nothing,” Hargett said. “But we just had to show up, and we did have to at least put some effort in.
The professors made sure as long as we were there, we were going to do something.”
Still, Hargett was there for only a short time. He and a number of his teammates left the school on a February night, following a Mount Zion assistant to Emmanuel Christian Academy, an unaccredited school that operated out of the basement of a day care center.
Emmanuel never actually played a game, however, and closed because of a lack of money, leaving Hargett without a team to play for in October of his senior year.
Even as Hargett bounced around, struggled with academics and continued to smoke marijuana, he remained a top recruit, with programs like Arizona, Tennessee, Michigan and Louisiana State pursuing him.
Hargett eventually ended up attending National Christian Academy in Maryland, the high school where Durant would later hear his name.
Hargett lived in the basement of his coach’s house, said he stopped getting high and played well enough that there was talk of his going to the N.B.A.
“I’m not smoking,” Hargett said, “I’m in the best shape of my life, and there’s reports that I could make it to the league to be the first guard ever drafted out of high school.
Hargett wanted to go to Arizona. The Wildcats won the national title in 1997 and had recently had a string of star guards like Miles Simon, Mike Bibby and Jason Terry on their roster.
Coach Lute Olson made two trips to watch Hargett in high school, but the Wildcats could not get Hargett to visit their campus. He said that Arizona refused to break N.C.A.A. rules and fly out his mother for a recruiting trip.
But West Virginia put together a more intriguing package for the Hargett family.
Mike Hargett’s wife, Joy, said that West Virginia planned on hiring her husband for a low-level staff position, which was allowable under N.C.A.A. rules.
Mike Hargett had worked for the West Virginia assistant Chris Cheeks at a Richmond high school years before.
Jonathan Hargett did not want to go to West Virginia, but he said that he was offered $20,000 a year to go there and that he committed at Mike’s urging.
Payments from West Virginia to Hargett could not be independently verified, and coaches and officials who were at West Virginia at the time deny knowledge of payment.
Hargett also said that when he was asked by the N.C.A.A. if he received any money from West Virginia, he lied to preserve his eligibility.
But Hargett says now that a deal was in place and that after Mike Hargett died, he honored his brother’s wishes and went there.
“He was going to be a coach, and they were going to give him a house,” Hargett said of West Virginia and his brother. “At the time, he had three kids.”
Gale Catlett, then West Virginia’s coach, denied that the university or coaching staff paid Hargett.
“If he got money from someone, it wasn’t from West Virginia University,” Catlett said.
“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.”
Soon after Hargett committed, in November 2000, Mike Hargett died from complications caused by blood clots.
In a family that faced continual turmoil, Mike Hargett had become someone his mother and siblings relied on.
Ernie Nestor, his coach at George Mason, recalled that Mike had to leave practice because the electricity had been shut off at the family’s home. He used his Pell Grant money to have it turned back on.
“It was like he was running the whole family,” said Earl Moore, Mike’s close friend at George Mason. “He was the backbone.”
When his brother died, Jonathan Hargett and his talent became his family’s great hope. Still, there were complications.
Hargett said he never received the full $20,000 he expected. Instead, he said he received $13,000 to $17,000 total, some from West Virginia and some from Anderson, the intermediary for Holloway, the financial adviser.
After an early-season game during his freshman season, Hargett said his mother told him that Cheeks, the West Virginia assistant, gave her $5,000 “in a bag.”
Hargett said his mother gave him 10 $100 bills, and he and his girlfriend went to a mall where they bought Air Jordans, Timberlands and a few pairs
Hargett said he never knew the source of the money but thought that it came from Brett Bearup, a financial adviser who was prominent on the Amateur Athletic Union scene at that time.
Hargett said his mother had met Bearup at a tournament.
Bearup denied any payment to Hargett and said he barely remembered him. Cheeks denies ever giving Hargett money.
“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.”
Hargett said the money from Anderson always came via Western Union.
(Holloway, the man Anderson worked for, recently admitted that he gave money to the mother of the N.B.A. player Michael Beasley while Beasley was at Kansas State).
Teammates suspected that Hargett was receiving money, but he never told them he was.
Sally noticed that Hargett always had “fresh” shoes and money to go out to nightclubs.
Catlett said he was suspicious of how Hargett’s mother and stepfather could afford to travel to New Mexico to see the Mountaineers play there.
“Nobody never knew as far as the deals and the terms as far as me coming to West Virginia,” Hargett said of his teammates. “I just felt like I didn’t want the team to be jealous of me. That winded up happening, anyway.”
Before he played a college game, Hargett was named the Big East preseason rookie of the year, and West Virginia started the 2001-2 season 7-2 with help from his game-winning shots against New Mexico and Tennessee.
Fran Fraschilla, then the coach at New Mexico, recalls being “mildly annoyed” being beaten by a player he thought “shouldn’t have been in college” because of his grades and the questions about whether N.C.A.A. rules had been violated during his recruitment.
“I thought he would be one of those schoolyard legends that pop up every so often, like a Lloyd Daniels,” Fraschilla, now an ESPN analyst, said.
“A lot of times, these young agents can’t evaluate talent and they pour resources into guys that are marginal pro prospects.”
Regardless, Hargett became a campus star. His jersey was sold in the bookstore, he got high continually and he recalled an instance in which two girls had a physical fight over him.
Hargett, the father of two daughters from different women, said he now regretted his behavior.
“Karma comes back, man, when you treat women wrong,” he said. “When you don’t take your blessings and you don’t count them, karma comes back.”
Hargett’s time as the big man on West Virginia’s campus was bracingly short. After their fast start, the Mountaineers lost 18 of their final 19 games, going 1-15 in the Big East.
Hargett was hobbled by a knee injury that sapped his statistics. Selfish play and erratic shooting sent his draft stock plummeting.
Hargett said he became a pariah in Morgantown, recalling that he was called a racial slur at a video store and told to “go back to Richmond.”
He also attracted the attention of the N.C.A.A., which began looking into his eligibility. Catlett retired during the season, and his staff was later fired when it ended.
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 say that to him, but he mapped it out, though.”
He 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 N.C.A.A., that found no wrongdoing on the part of the university.
Hargett eventually returned to Richmond, was arrested for selling marijuana and in 2004 attempted a comeback at Virginia Union, a Division II university with a Hall of Fame coach, Dave Robbins, and a history of sending players like Ben Wallace and Charles Oakley to the N.B.A.
But the N.C.A.A. would not clear Hargett to play. Deana Garner, a former N.C.A.A. investigator who worked on the case, remembered Hargett, though she declined to discuss specifics of his situation.
“The sad thing is, unfortunately, by the time we got involved, there was so much that had already occurred and so many rumors and people and layer and layer and layer upon trying to gather information,” she said. “Then you have a young man who is at the center of it.”
Jonathan Hargett was baptized in April. Officials at the correctional facility say he is a model prisoner who has been selected to mentor other inmates. They speak optimistically about his return to society.
Hargett’s return to Richmond is complicated, however, because he will also have to face his own legend.
Nylla Carter, his 13-year-old daughter, is a violinist whose mother steered her away from basketball because she did not want her to face extra pressure because of who her father is.
For years, Nylla believed her father was away playing basketball. Only recently did her mother tell her the truth.
Hargett said that when he gets a letter from Nylla, he finds a quiet place, rips open the envelope and soaks in every word his daughter has written. His priority when he gets out of prison is to spend time with Nylla and his 6-year old daughter, J’la.
“I’m not dead, but I’m neglecting them the same way as I was being neglected,” Hargett said. “I just can’t allow that to keep on happening.”
Hargett’s last shot at a career in basketball, via a spot in the N.B.A.’s Development League, ended in 2006.
He was selling cocaine to get money for his hotel stay for the tryout when he was robbed and shot in the hip. On cold nights, he can feel the bullet lodged in his pelvis.
“I got shot on a Wednesday; I was set to leave that Friday,” he said of the tryout. “That pretty much took the cake. That really just turned me to the streets.”
Hargett sold cocaine for a number of years, saying he made $5,000 to $6,000 a week.
That ended on the morning of March 22, 2008, when Hargett smoked marijuana and jumped into his Lincoln Navigator with three children, including his younger daughter, to drive to his mother’s house.
The police pulled him over for a traffic violation soon after and he tried to flee.
The police caught him, threw him to the ground and found 40 grams of cocaine hidden in the ashtray of the vehicle, and $750 worth of marijuana in a bag in the back. Soon, Hargett found himself in prison.
“I made a lot of bad decisions,” Hargett said. “I don’t have no eg
o, pride or none of that no more.”
There are still those who believe in Hargett. Lancaster, the high school coach, has offered his full support once Hargett is released.
Hargett has a job waiting for him at a Richmond restaurant run by the family of his former girlfriend Aisha, Nylla’s mother.
“He was a victim,” Dannie Carter, Aisha’s father, said. “He was dealt an unfair hand as a child. Jonathan himself, he’s one of the finest young people that you’ll ever meet.”
While Hargett sits in jail, those who surrounded him during his playing days have moved on, though they remain involved in athletics. Anderson, who Hargett said paid him money via Western Union, now runs a youth football league in the Washington area.
Cheeks was recently hired by Delaware as an assistant, and Beaman has tried to establish himself as a workout guru in the Washington area. As for Hargett, the Carters have been his only visitors the last two years.
“This is a guy who in high school everyone wanted a piece of,” said Travis Garrison, a contemporary of Hargett’s who went on to play at Maryland. “Everyone was his brother and cousin and friend. Where are they now? That happens all the time. It happens all the time.”
There are times when Hargett acknowledges that he will not be able to make a living playing basketball when he gets out of prison. He is out of shape, his knee is ravaged by a long-ago injury and he has not competed at a high level in almost a decade.
There are other times, though, when he watches his contemporaries like the Knicks’ Anthony and Stoudemire on ESPN and feels as if he can still help an N.B.A. team.
In January, Jonathan Hargett will try to start his life over. He expresses no malice toward those who tried to help him and his family along the way. He just wishes his basketball tale had a different ending.
“The moral of this whole story,” he said, “is to help someone not to make the same mistakes.
Date Posted: Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 , Total Page Views: 838
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