COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio State hired Jim O'Brien to clean up a disreputable program. On Tuesday, the university fired O'Brien because he admitted he
gave a recruit $6,000 five years ago not long after he ran off several problem players left over from the previous coach.
"I am troubled that a rule was admittedly violated and it took us five years to find out about it,"
said athletic director Andy Geiger, who
frequently championed the honesty of his basketball coach as the Buckeyes struggled through a 14-16 season last year.
Geiger said he was stunned when he found out about what he called serious violations in the basketball program. NCAA spokeswoman Kay Hawes said the
governing body is investigating O'Brien and the Ohio State basketball program. O'Brien's contract, which paid him more than $850,000 per year,
specifies the university can fire him for any NCAA violations. His firing was took effect immediately. Geiger said assistant Rick Boyages would take
over on an interim basis during the search for a new coach. O'Brien was 133-88 in seven years at Ohio State. In a statement released through his
lawyer, O'Brien did not dispute he helped potential recruit Aleksandar Radojevic.
"I am advised that my firing is because I was asked to and tried to give assistance to a young man's family who was in dire financial straits,"
said O'Brien, who did not return phone messages left at his home and office. "The assistance in no way influenced the young man in his decision to
attend OSU and, indeed, the young man did not enroll at OSU."
Geiger would not say whether the money was O'Brien's or came from another source.
"My understanding is it was not the school's (money),"
Geiger said O'Brien indicated he gave the money to Radojevic because the player's father had died, his mother was unable to work and he had three
siblings. Radojevic, a 7-foot-3 center, played in his native Yugoslavia and was recruited and signed by O'Brien. Before he attended a class or wore an
Ohio State uniform, however, the NCAA ruled he was ineligible for accepting $13,000 from a professional team in his homeland. Prevented from playing
college ball, Radojevic entered the NBA draft and was taken with the No. 12 pick in the first round by the Toronto Raptors. Injuries cut short his NBA
career. He was traded to Denver and to Milwaukee in 2001 before being cut by the Bucks.
Ohio State learned of O'Brien's payment to Radojevic through a lawsuit by a woman who said she provided housing, meals and clothes for another Ohio
State recruit from the same war-torn area, Slobodan Savovic. He played four years with the Buckeyes, including the 1998-99 team that O'Brien led to
the Final Four.
The woman is suing two other people who helped sponsor Savovic, since he was not a U.S. citizen and needed to have someone vouch for him while he was
in this country. The woman contends the sponsors did not live up to their agreement to pay her $1,000 a month plus expenses to for Savovic's housing,
food and transportation. The lawsuit says then Ohio State assistant coach Paul Biancardi now the coach at Wright State also was active in handling
money for Savovic, Radojevic, Savovic's brother Predrag and another Ohio State player originally from Yugoslavia, Cobe Ocokoljic. The woman says that
Biancardi, on behalf of O'Brien, arranged for payments to the players, provided her with season tickets and asked her to introduce players to agents.
She also contends she did much of Savovic's Ohio State homework his first three years.
Biancardi was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Wright State athletic director Mike Cusack said he had not seen any documents, but
also was trying to reach Biancardi. Geiger said he had asked O'Brien about the lawsuit and was told by the coach it was a minor problem and would go
away. On April 24, Geiger said O'Brien told him that depositions in the lawsuit would reveal the payment made to Radojevic.
Geiger said he had asked O'Brien whether the coach was aware he had violated NCAA rules.
"He admitted he knew that he did,"
O'Brien, 368-305 in 22 years as a head coach, came to Ohio State in 1997 from his alma mater, Boston College. He took over the Buckeyes from Randy
Ayers, who was fired after four consecutive losing seasons and an NCAA probation that stemmed from paying $60 to a potential recruit.
After going 8-22 in his first season with Ayers' players, O'Brien led the Buckeyes to a 27-9 record as they made it to the national semifinals before
losing 64-58 to eventual champion Connecticut. Last season, Ohio State missed the postseason for the first time in six years as O'Brien struggled to
regain his voice after his vocal cords were damaged during back surgery.