The late coaching legend Al McGuire once defined a “wintertime freak” as anyone who preferred sex over college basketball.
Thanks to a red-hot new book coauthored by Indianapolis Pulitzer Prize winner Dick Cady, we no longer face that agonizing choice.
OK, bad form there. But downright elegant compared to the University of Louisville men’s basketball program, at least as described by Katina Powell in Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen.
In a narrative that Cady was called upon by the Indy publisher IBJ Books to verify and shape into book form, Powell’s accounts as a self-professed madam tell of supplying strippers and prostitutes, as well as her own daughters, to players, recruits and coaches over recent seasons. This included doing so during the elite team’s national title year of 2013.
Your basic firestorm has ensued. Investigations are under way. Sales have topped Amazon’s charts. And Cady, 75 years old and 15 years removed from a long and illustrious career in hard-core newspaper investigative reporting, finds himself a star reporter all over again.
When I caught him between interviews recently, he told me nonchalantly that he deems himself a “pinch-hitter” for newsies who really want the unavailable Powell. And this drama, he adds, is a one-shot deal for a fiction lover who just wants to add to the stack of novels he’s written since quitting newspapers.
Here’s a lightly edited transcript of my conversation with Cady for Sky Blue Window readers.
Sky Blue Window: Did you have some trepidation going into this, considering the size of the target?
Dick Cady: No, but I always realize the consequences. I didn’t know this till the other day, but the University of Louisville’s basketball program has been named by Forbes magazine as the most valuable in the nation for three consecutive years ($39.5 million). We knew there was a lot of money at stake, a lot of prestige, a lot of things at stake.
SBW: But you go back to taking on the Indianapolis police, the Marion County prosecutor, for corruption -- including protecting prostitution (part of the 1975 Pulitzer expose) …
DC: … and the FBI, and the mob, and the politicians. Yeah, I have a long and pleasant history with this sort of stuff.
SBW: Were you shocked to see this thing turn out to be such a blockbuster?
DC: No. One recognizes the smell of dynamite when one is around it.
SBW: They let you have the movie rights?
DC: I get a set fee and a percentage of sales. And by the way, I was underpaid (he laughs).
SBW: Coach Rick Pitino. THE Rick Pitino. How could he not know this was going on?
DC: Maybe he was too busy … I’ve never said, we’ve never said, the book doesn’t say that Pitino knew. We have no way of knowing what Pitino knew. My question is, if he didn’t know, why didn’t he know? That seems a thoroughly logical question.
SBW: You’ve detailed the extensive legwork in checking out Powell’s story and soliciting a UL response. You expect more pushback from them or a nice sincere investigation?
DC: We, ahem, sincerely hope for an independent investigation in the belief that it will validate the book. But my experience is that when there’s a lot at stake, certain things happen that shouldn’t.
SBW: This comes in a context. Maybe there’s less credibility in these big programs now. I mean, if Penn State’s Joe Paterno can go down, if even the president of Penn State can go down in that child abuse scandal, one would suppose the public is more disposed to believe outrageous things at this point.
DC: First of all, let me say I’m not interested in anybody going down. We’re only interested in the facts coming out as they ought to. But in this case, you’ve got a terrifically loyal fan base for UL on the one hand and you have a large number of UL haters, including University of Kentucky people on the other. So it’s hard to tell what sort of audience there is and which way they’ll be polling -- and how it could influence official conduct.
SBW: You’re back in the saddle and this story has legs, as they say in the biz. Want to stay with this investigative journalism stuff now?
DC: When this came up I was working on two writing projects. Two works of fiction, a mystery and an epic. Yeah, epic! Set them aside to do this thing in the belief it might be a couple months. That was six months ago. I only took this thing because Mr. Maurer asked me to. I took it very reluctantly. But Mickey had reviewed two of my books very nicely, helped the sales a lot, and I appreciated it.
They were looking for someone who, first of all, would have the experience to tackle something like this; and secondly, someone who would be crazy enough to do it. And that’s where my name usually comes up. But I’m not gonna … I want to get back to my fiction. I miss my fiction.