Morgan Wootten must not be a second-chance type of guy.
Why else would the 74-year-old Hall of Famer, who remains the all-time winningest coach in high school history, remove Notre Dame Prep's Paul Harris from the McDonald's All-American Game after he was voted in by the selection committee?
Wooten, the selection committee chairman of the McDonald's Game and former DeMatha (Md.) coach, took matters into his own hands, vetoing the other 32 committee members and forcing Harris out of the game.
But other than Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, a legitimate case can be made for Harris being as worthy of the honor as any other player in the senior class.
Just ask any college, prep school coach or top player.
"He got robbed," Durant said of Harris' snub. "He is the most complete player in the country. It's a shame he didn't make it because he is top five in the country without a doubt."
Said Notre Dame Prep (Mass.) coach Bill Barton: "Paul Harris is one of the top five players in the country without question."
Harris' case indicates why the selection process for the preeminent high school all-star game, which will be played March 29 in San Diego, is still not up to par.
"It's just strange because I am allowed to play for my country in the Hoop Summit, but I'm not good enough to play in the McDonald's Game," Harris said. "I just don't understand it."
Not only was Harris selected to play in the Hoop Summit, which features the elite seniors in the United States against the top players from the world who are 19 and under, but he was also chosen for the Jordan All-American Classic and the Roundball Classic — considered the top two all-star games after McDonald's.
However, Harris has had his issues. He spent 13 days in jail nearly four years ago after being charged with drug possession. Charges of misdemeanor assault involving his girlfriend in September 2004 were dropped.
But Wootten's first reason for barring the Syracuse-bound Harris, after Harris was almost unanimously voted in by the committee, was eligibility.
"He got enough votes, but he has a year in high school that no one else had," Wootten said. "Once you begin the ninth grade, you have four years."
Then why was Harris listed on all four rounds of ballots sent to each committee member as the field gets whittled down from 100 to 20 players?
"Someone found out at the 11th hour," Wootten said.
C'mon, Morgan. You can do better than that.
"In my opinion, when Coach Wootten spoke to me, it seemed as though he was looking for a reason to keep him out of the game," Barton said. "Paul Harris is one of the best kids I've ever coached. He's a super kid who deserves to be in that game. He earned it."
Harris, who turned 19 on Oct. 15, began high school in Niagara Falls, N.Y., five years ago, but he re-did his freshman year after not attending enough classes.
But to take Harris off the team for that reason is hypocritical.
That's because previous McDonald's All-Americans Gerald Green and J.R. Smith, among others, had also been re-classified and spent five years in high school.
After being reminded of the cases of Green, Smith and others, Wootten then did a two-step and moved onto the "character" issue as a reason why Harris was pulled from the game despite gathering more than enough votes.
"It was a double-edged sword," Wootten said. "That played into it also, but I don't want to say one outweighed another."
Which is it?
"Character does count," Wootten said. "If someone is a felon, we don't want that type of person as a McDonald's All-American."
If character matters, then there are other cases why Harris appears to be the victim of a double standard.
DeAngelo Collins, who made the team in 2002, was hardly a choir boy. He pleaded guilty to felony assault and served six months in juvenile hall for beating up a teammate as a freshman. J.R. Giddens made the team three years ago despite being arrested for shoplifting at a Wal-Mart in his native Oklahoma.
And by all accounts, Harris is reformed.
"I know I've changed," Harris said. "I made some mistakes when I was younger, but I don't put myself in those situations anymore."
"Paul was never a bad kid," said Jeff Bishop, Harris' summer coach with the GC Ballers and also a director of a community youth center in Buffalo. "It's just where he grew up in the ghetto. He didn't realize that basketball could take him somewhere he dreamed of until three or four years ago. He started separating himself from his friends and becoming more mature."
Harris isn't the only one to be snubbed for what Wootten deems "character" issues, but the others didn't receive the necessary amount of votes to make the team, according to sources close to the process. Brandon Rush didn't earn a trip a year ago. Shelden Williams didn't tally enough votes, largely because of a rape charge that was later dropped. Penny Hardaway was left off because of flunking grades.
"We're trying to find people with good character," said McDonald's founder Bob Geoghan, who admitted he defers all personnel decisions to Wootten.
However, neither Wootten nor Geoghan even attempted to speak to Harris. Wootten even admitted to receiving glowing reports from the people whom he did speak with regarding Harris.
"I'm happy for him that he's turned it around," Wootten said.
But Wootten's words didn't mean much to Harris, who caught wind of his exclusion last week.
"I'm real disappointed," Harris said. "It really hurts because it's one of the goals I really wanted to accomplish.
"I'm not going to look at this as if they said I was a bad kid. I'm going to take it as if they told me I wasn't good enough and I'm just going to work harder."
Added Bishop: "The kid really deserves to get a break."
Unfortunately, he didn't get one this time.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT PAUL HARRIS
"He was great with us on and off the court. On the court, he was a man and only played at one speed: 100 percent. He always wanted to guard the best player on the other team regardless of their position. When O.J. (Mayo) came into the game, he switched people so he could guard O.J. Off the court, I can't say enough about him. We had no issues and he was a pleasure to work with." - Sean Ford, USA Development Assistant Executive Director for Men's Programs
"Paul Harris is one of the top wing players in the Class of 2006 and he's earned his reputation. Among his peers, Harris is respected and looked up to. The book on him was that he had some trouble early in his high school career but to his credit he's improved not only as a player but took charge of his life off the court and conducted himself in a manner you would expect as one of the elite talents in the country." - Dave Telep of Scout.com
"He was just a kid when all that happened. He's done everything he's supposed to do. The kid isn't the only one who loses out. Everybody loses out because he's one of the best kids in America. He's one of the most respectful kids I've ever met and is the consummate team player." - South Kent coach Raphael Chillious
"He's the best prep school player I've ever seen and is the ultimate teammate" - Patterson School coach Chris Chaney
"If he's not eligible, he shouldn't have been on the ballot." - Clark Francis of HoopScoop.com in the Syracuse Post-Standard