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Keller claims NCAA probe hurt reputation

SCOTTSBORO (AP) — Crimson Tide booster Ray Keller testified that he did not break any NCAA rules on recruiting high school players and still feels hurt about being named in a “rogue boosters” investigation.

Keller, a Northeast Alabama timberman from Stevenson, seeks $2 million from the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

In his lawsuit, Keller claims defamation and invasion of privacy stemming from the NCAA’s 2002 press release announcing sanctions for recruiting violations at Alabama.

Keller was one of three men described in the report as “rogue boosters” and “the parasites of intercollegiate athletics.” The university cut its ties with the three — Keller, the late Logan Young of Memphis and Wendell Smith of Chattanooga.

In testimony Friday, Keller was asked to describe the worst part of the NCAA’s 2002 press conference outlining the violations and penalties.

“That I had corrupted the lives of many young men,” a tearful Keller said.

Keller said it would be “easier to answer who didn’t” know in Jackson County he was one of the three boosters named in the investigation. He already had described the “cold shoulders and phone calls that weren’t returned” in the small town where he fervently supported the high school.

Keller returns to the witness stand Monday in the trial before Jackson County Circuit Judge John Graham.

Keller repeatedly and confidently denied committing any NCAA violations, including those outlined by the NCAA in its investigation of Alabama recruits Kenny Smith Jr. and Albert Means of Memphis.

Smith moved to Bridgeport from Jasper, Tenn., in 1995 to play football at North Jackson High School, where Keller
remains a trustee and supporter.

Smith signed with Alabama but never joined the team because of grades.

Keller testified that he had not provided benefits to any players and that Young and Wendell Smith never asked him to provide money to players or serve as a middleman for payments.

He described Young as “arrogant, unfriendly and everything in a person I didn’t like,” but Keller said they eventually became “football friends” and talked on the phone or at games. He asked Young to help his daughter land a job and his son to get into Memphis State University, but otherwise didn’t interact with Young, who died in 2006.

Keller said he might have purchased a meal for Kenny Smith Jr.’s family, though Keller said he couldn’t recall whether he or another booster bought it. Other meals after high school football games, Keller said, were a group effort to pay the tab for players, family, band “or whoever showed up.”

Keller said in May 2001 he hosted NCAA and Alabama officials at his office in Stevenson and the discussion quickly turned to Young. Keller said his wife, Cathy, brought “enough food to feed an army” and everyone ate except NCAA investigator Richard Johanningmeier, who Keller said “snurled at it. He wouldn’t eat or be cordial or whatever.”

Keller recalled they talked for several hours before taking a break. He walked out for a soda on his porch and said Alabama faculty athletics representative Gene Marsh followed him. Marsh reportedly asked Keller, “if I loved Alabama or did I want to help Alabama?”

“I said yes, and he said I just needed to tell them Logan Young bought players,” Keller said. “I said, ‘Do I look that crazy to you?’ and walked back inside.”

When sanctions were announced, Keller, Wendell Smith and Young were disassociated from the university — lifetime bans Keller described as “just another nail in the coffin.”

Keller said his wife also was ousted as a Tide Pride donor program member and quit
going to football games with him.

“It made me feel embarrassed, sad, embarrassed for my family, my 92-year-old mother, who thinks I’m the world’s greatest ... embarrassed for my church, my county,” Keller said.

Keller said requests to the NCAA to rescind the lifetime ban have been denied. He said persistent media reports, phone calls and loss of friends are “a cancer in our life I want corrected.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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