The news arrived Thursday morning on Twitter, dressed up in red and black with a nice artistic touch: “COMMITTED,” it read in white letters, flanked below by the name Zach Harvey and an accompanying photo of him in a Cincinnati Bearcats uniform above.
Around the same time, the University of Cincinnati sent out a news release announcing the basketball program had signed a scholarship agreement with Harvey, a four-star prospect ranked inside the top 50 in the 2020 class by 247Sports, before he’d reclassified to 2019.
So maybe that reclassification explained why a top-50 recruit – just the sixth in program history – would be available to sign with a college as late as June 27. Maybe it would, but that’s not the whole story.
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The story is much more complicated, and it demonstrates the substantial risk Cincinnati is taking by bringing Harvey to campus. In October 2017, Harvey – then a junior at Hayden High in Topeka, Kansas – was charged with two felony counts of sexual exploitation of a child regarding an incident that March.
He was accused alongside two other Kansas prep athletes of, as Kansas.com reported, “having sexually explicit images or videos of a 15-year-old girl and encouraging the girl to perform sexually explicit acts last spring.”
Last June, Harvey pleaded no contest to reduced charges, misdemeanors of endangering a child and breach of privacy. He played the 2018-19 season at Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif. He had been recruited by such programs as Creighton, Arizona State, Oregon, Ohio State and Gonzaga.
The 6-4 shooting guard made a visit to Cincinnati recently, and the school decided to offer him the opportunity to join the Bearcats. Around the same time Harvey committed and the school put out its basic news release, it also shared a statement from athletic director Mike Bohn:
“After a thorough review of the background and character of prospective University of Cincinnati men’s basketball student-athlete Zach Harvey, he signed a grant-in-aid agreement to enroll for the summer term at UC. Zach’s behavior two years ago while a 16-year-old was not representative of the standards to which we hold our current student-athletes, but during a recent on-campus visit, he took full ownership of his actions without making any excuses.
“Zach recognizes it is a privilege to be a student-athlete at UC and it’s our expectation he will be an upstanding member of our campus community. We are working with Zach on a plan to ensure continued personal development along with his success as a student athlete. We will hold him accountable to this process and work to evaluate his progress. He is aware of these expectations and accepts he will be held to an even higher standard than his peers and there will be zero tolerance for any behavior during his time at UC which is inconsistent with our department’s guiding principles.”
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At most major Division I schools, enrolling Harvey with this on his record would be risky. At Cincinnati, that risk is enhanced because of the program’s own history.
The university obviously did not make the coaching change from Bob Huggins in 2006 to Mick Cronin because of wins and losses; it was looking for a cultural change, primarily because of a series of incidents involving player discipline. The Bearcats got that change in Cronin’s 13 years with the Bearcats, during which the team’s report cards improved and police reports disappeared.
Bohn’s statement indicates Harvey now understands that even the slightest blunder – perhaps not so insignificant as a parking ticket, but just about anything north of that – will have enormous consequences. Because this is a major city, not a quiet college town that might be predisposed to keeping small indiscretions quiet.
And, whether Cincinnati likes it, there is the rivalry with Xavier to consider. In such a crucible, with fans of the opposing side watching closely, misdeeds can often be amplified, and social media provide the tools to do the job.
In such an atmosphere, it is Cincinnati basketball that is committed to Zach Harvey, even more so than he is to the program.
Let’s hope it is for the better, not its opposite, for both player and program.