Well, there’s bad news and then there’s bad news. Bad news — for Kentucky faithful — is that the NCAA is reportedly expanding its investigation into top Wildcat basketball signee Nerlens Noel. What’s make that news tougher to swallow is who’s reporting the story. That would be Pete Thamel (peering over Noel’s shoulder at left), formerly of The New York Times, currently of SI.com, and regularly on the trail of John Calipari.
NCAA investigators have been snooping around the Noel case for a while now. His academic record as he moved from one school to another has always been under the microscope. So, too, have his contacts and his inner circle. Now, “according to a person with knowledge of the NCAA inquiry,” the NCAA is asking more questions about how Noel paid to travel to his unofficial visits.
“What made the NCAA’s visit to Tilton (School) intriguing is that a senior Kentucky official, UK chief compliance officer Sandy Bell, accompanied (NCAA assistant directors of enforcement Cindi) Merrill and (Frank) Smith for the meeting. Bell didn’t ask many questions, according to the source, but did take notes and spoke up occasionally. The presence of two NCAA enforcement officials and Bell gives the appearance that this case has gone beyond the routine checking of top prospects, according to one former NCAA investigator.”
A “veteran compliance official” called the presence of Bell at the meeting “unusual but not incredibly unusual.” It does suggest, however, that Noel’s presence on this year’s UK roster might still be in some doubt. To what degree, only the NCAA knows.
Noel is expected to replace Anthony Davis’ as UK’s shot-blocking man in the middle this season. And after this season he’s expected to be one of if not the #1 pick in the NBA draft come summer 2013.
Wildcat fans must already be murmuring (cursing, plotting) over the fact that Thamel’s first report for Sports Illustrated is once again focused on Calipari’s hoops program. As someone who’s worked in the media for 20 years, I can tell you that most writers do not carry grudges, even though most fans believe all writers do. In this case, though, even an outside observer like myself has to wonder how/why Thamel seems to be on a permanent UK basketball beat… while writing for The New York Times and now Sports Illustrated.
That said, whether Thamel has a vendetta against Kentucky’s coach or not, his report should be taken seriously by those in the Commonwealth. After all, Kentucky’s top compliance officer took things seriously enough to hop a plane to New Hampshire and sit in as Noel’s situation was again given the once-over.
Which by now is more like a thrice-over.