Former Arizona wing Jawann McClellan said he's "pretty sure" college basketball coaches tried to gain leverage in his recruitment by investing money with the businessman who operated McClellan's travel team while in high school.
But even though former UA men's basketball coach Lute Olson reportedly invested $1.17 million with David Salinas, a Houston financier who ran the travel team, McClellan said their relationship was not a factor in his decision to attend Arizona.
Olson's and McClellan's names are tied to reports this week about Salinas, who died of an apparent suicide over the weekend amid a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into his business practices.
Sports Illustrated cited Olson as one of several current and former college coaches who invested with Salinas, who ran an investment business as well as a Houston travel team that McClellan played on in high school.
"Coach Olson was probably one of his biggest clients and (committing to UA) caught a lot of people off guard," McClellan said Tuesday by phone from Houston. "A lot of people thought I was going to Texas, but I was confident in my decision."
McClellan said he chose the Wildcats primarily because of Olson and then-Arizona assistant coach Josh Pastner, though he also considered Kentucky before committing to UA in the summer of 2002.
Olson did not return a message from the Star on Tuesday and also was unavailable through UA.
Houston Yates High School coach Greg Wise, the father of former UA guard Nic Wise and current UA guard Dondre Wise, said he was aware that Salinas handled Olson's money but did not know when that began.
Even so, Wise said he believed McClellan chose UA because of Pastner and Olson, too.
"It was Josh and Coach Olson," Wise said. Salinas "didn't have anything to do with it."
Pastner, who once coached against Salinas when he was a teenager with the Houston Hoops program, declined to comment in detail.
McClellan said Salinas stayed out of his recruiting because of his dad, the late George McClellan.
"He knew not to approach me about things like that because of my dad," McClellan said. "He was a good dude."
McClellan said Salinas was only involved in his decision to attend UA because he was a friend of former UA assistant and former Rice head coach Scott Thompson, who saw McClellan play travel-ball events for Salinas' Houston Select team.
Whether anyone else managed to curry favor with Salinas, McClellan declined to say.
"I'm pretty sure Coach did run one of top two programs in the city, and I'm pretty sure he had players loaded up so you'd think coaches tried to get a relationship with him," McClellan said. "But whether Salinas went for that is neither here nor there."
Former University of Houston coach Tom Penders, however, told the Houston Chronicle that Salinas asked him for a "significant sum of money" to invest in exchange for recruiting favors.
"He hinted he could steer players my way," Penders said. "I never got involved with him, period."
But even if McClellan were found to have attended UA because of Olson's investments with Salinas, it wouldn't likely harm the program. UA compliance head Bill Morgan said Tuesday night such a violation - if somehow established - would be outside of the NCAA's statute of limitations and would be considered only if the NCAA believed it was part of a trend that continued to more recent events.
Morgan said in the unlikely case that a financial connection between Olson and Salinas was proven related to McClellan's arrival, it would be similar to the allegations Oregon is facing over a payment to a scouting service run by a trainer affiliated with a Texas high school football star.
"Without any solid facts or direct knowledge, it'd be hard to speculate whether it would reach that," Morgan said.
Salinas founded Houston Select Basketball in 1992, both coaching and directing the program at the beginning. He even faced Pastner, then a teenager helping with his father's rival Houston Hoops program, on several occasions.
"He was always very, very nice to me," Pastner said. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time."
In recent years, however, Salinas did not coach the team and often did not even attend its games, according to Wise. Although Wise said he did not have players play for the Select, he said Salinas was well-regarded among those who did play for him.
"I can say that in all my dealings with him and conversations with him, he has been nothing but above board," Wise said. "And I know he was great for a bunch of kids who didn't have anything. He was more than generous."
McClellan, who has coached with Wise at Yates and for the Select, said he last spoke with Salinas two months ago, and that Salinas was - typically - trying to make calls to help him find a job in college coaching.
"Everything that I've heard is very shocking," McClellan said. "I'm dealing with it, probably not well. It's just shocking to me that everything came out about him."