Have you heard the one about the former Bob Knight recruit, the Russian mobster and a murdered 19-year-old rapper named Lil Phat?
There’s no punchline. Though it sounds like a story line straight out of CSI: David Caruso, this is as real as it gets.
Former Texas Tech basketball player Decensae White will appear in court this week after being arrested and extradited from California to Georgia (the state, not the country) last week. White is accused of being the trigger man in the murder of Lil Phat, aka Melvin Vernell III, at the behest of Russian mobster Mani Chuplayev last summer.
There’s a lot to digest in that paragraph, so I’ll try to break this down to the best of my abilities.
First, White. The California native signed with Texas Tech out of high school and played 30 games for the Red Raiders as a freshman in 2006-07. He also happened to be the roommate of football star Michael Crabtree.
White decided to transfer closer to home — Santa Clara — following the first semester of his sophomore year. He was eligible to play for the Broncos beginning with the second semester of his junior year, which he did before leaving school and pursuing a rap career in Georgia.
That’s where Lil Phat was murdered last summer in one of the most cold-blooded slayings imaginable — gunned down in the parking garage outside of the hospital where his girlfriend was giving birth. The complete lack of conscience or morality was probably a good tip-off that a Russian was involved somewhere in this story (whoops, did I say that?), as was the more concrete evidence of Chuplayev leasing a stolen BMW to Lil Phat a couple of months before the murder.
That brings us to the craziest part of this story. Years after giving up on his basketball career — and just a few months after his alleged involvement in Lil Phat’s murder — White returned to the court last season for NCAA Division II San Francisco State. He had an outstanding season, averaging 12.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as he was named first team all-conference and second-team in Division II’s West Region. He even had a buzzer-beating shot from three-quarters court that ended up a Top 10 play on SportsCenter.
I suspect White’s season will be something used by both sides in the trial. For the defense, it will probably be framed as unlikely that someone with a murder tearing at their conscience could perform as such a level. For the prosecution, it will be used as evidence that White has no conscience.
The whole story is insane. Not that I’ve compiled a running list, but out of every college basketball coach in history Bob Knight is probably the last one I would suspect of recruiting a future hit man. That’s another point likely to be raised by the defense.
The saddest part is a 19-year-old kid was murdered while going to see the birth of his own kid — a kid that will never have father. And at the center is a former basketball star with a 1-year-old of his own who may have thrown it all away. For what?
Whatever the answer, it couldn’t have been worth it.