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The top college basketball signee in the nation is getting an extra once-over from NCAA officials, according to The New York Times. Two assistant directors of enforcement who specialize in basketball-related issues traveled to Everett, Massachusetts this week to talk with school officials there about Kentucky signee Nerlens Noel — he of the big fade haircut and bigger expectations. Noel attended Everett High School as a freshman and sophomore before moving on to Titlon School, a boarding school in New Hampshire the past two years.
According to the principal at Everett High, the meeting with NCAA officials lasted just over an hour and centered on “concerns we had as adults” for Noel. ”It was a conversation, very collegial,” Louis Baldi said. ”That was really it. They didn’t ask me any investigative-type questions.”
Pete Thamel of The Times reports that according to a source, the NCAA has questions about Noel’s relationship “with Chris Driscoll, a former Providence assistant who is close to Noel.” Driscoll was barred from the campus of Tilton School this past year. Tilton officials — according to Thamel — “expressed concern earlier this year that Driscoll did not have Noel’s best interests at heart.” Driscoll has denied that allegation in the past, but he did not return Thamel’s call this time around.
The NCAA also has questions about Errol Randolph, a former substitute teacher at Everett High, who became one of the Noel’s advisors. Randolph was at one point connected to basketball agent Andy Miller via LinkedIn.com. That raised questions.
In addition, a source has also told Thamel that NCAA officials plan to ask about Noel’s finances since “he flew on unofficial visits this year to Kentucky and Louisville that were not paid for by the universities.”
Officials at Tilton School told The Times they would cooperate with the NCAA if they showed up to ask questions about Noel. ”I wouldn’t be surprised if they turned up,” said headmaster Jim Clements.
Not cooperating — at least not to date — has been Leo Papile, the coach of Noel’s former Boston-based AAU team. NCAA officials have tried unsuccessfully to reach Papile, too.
Okay, so that’s the heart of it. Quite naturally, many Kentucky fans are already claiming this is just another Thamel/Times-led witch hunt with John Calipari and the UK program already pre-fitted with pointy hats and brooms. In reality, yeah, that may be the case… but it’s part of the Calipari package that UK fans should have known they were getting when they hired their Supercoach.
When Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart brought in Billy Gillispie five years ago, Calipari was famously left off Barnhart’s master list of candidates. But when the SS Wildcat went down in stormy seas under Gillispie, Barnhart, Kentucky’s administration and a few mega-UK boosters decided Calipari would be a fine fit after all. They hired him as their program’s new captain.
But with Calipari a school is guaranteed to get the following:
1. The absolute best recruits in America.
2. Great teams because of that great recruiting.
3. An engaging, electric ambassador for their hoops program.
4. Scrutiny from the NCAA because of all that great recruiting.
5. Scrutiny from the media because Calipari has twice previously had ships crash into NCAA icebergs while he was at the wheel — at UMass and again at Memphis.
Calipari has never been found guilty of a thing, mind you. Nothing big like illegal payments and inducements to players. Nothing small like phone calls or barbecues. He’s never been accused of lying to the NCAA or covering up an investigation. They’ve found nothing on him. Nada. Zip.
But two programs he helmed had to vacate Final Four seasons due to things that took place on his watch. When he was hired, all of America knew that Kentucky was in for increased scrutiny. And, let’s be honest, Kentucky also has a long history of its own NCAA issues.
To put things in “Godfather II” terms, the NCAA is the Senate subcommittee and they seem to view Calipari as Michael Corleone, the head of a mafia family. But to date, they haven’t been able to get any more proof on Calipari than the Senate did Corleone. (Somewhere Frankie Five Angels is just settling in for his last bath.)
UK fans might not like the extra attention, but they shouldn’t complain about it. They wanted wins. Calipari has brought them wins. He’s also brought along a trail of NCAA officials and investigative reporters. So far, it hasn’t mattered. Not in regards to Eric Bledsoe’s high school transcript. Not in connection with wild rumors of payments made to Anthony Davis. As we said before: nada, zip.
Perhaps the Noel situation is just another dead-end in the ongoing NCAA pursuit of Calipari and his programs. Heck, according to The Times report, there’s nothing to suggest Calipari or UK did anything wrong with regards to Noel. He’s their signee, yes, but the questions seem to be tied to the people around Noel, not to figures in Lexington.
But whatever the NCAA or The New York Times or Yahoo! Sports or anyone else digs up on Noel, Calipari or the UK program, Cat fans shouldn’t act surprised and they shouldn’t complain. They knew what they were getting when they hired Calipari. They just have to hope that he’s running as clean a ship as he is a successful one.
Because everyone’s watching him, his program and his recruits. Fair or not. That’s part of the Calipari package.