Nerlens Noel is a headline because of John Calipari

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We’ve got an update to the Nerlens Noel investigation, courtesy of the NCAA’s lead investigator, Pete Thamel of SI.com:

The NCAA has expanded its inquiry into Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel, one of the nation’s top recruits in the class of 2012, as two NCAA enforcement officials traveled to Noel’s New Hampshire prep school for a three-hour meeting in early August. The NCAA’s questions focused on the cast of characters that surrounded Noel’s recruitment and how Noel paid for his unofficial visits, according to a person with knowledge of the NCAA inquiry.

This is the second first* time that the NCAA has made their way up to Tilton Academy, and the third second* time they’ve been to a high school that Noel attended during their investigation. (He spent his first two seasons at Everett High in the Boston area.)

*(I misread Thamel’s article, apologies.)

What makes this investigation all the more interesting, however, is the fact that UK sent their chief compliance officer, Sandy Bell, to the meeting. From Thamel:

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.

The “routine checking of top prospects” line is the key here. The same former investigator said that it’s “not common” for a compliance officer to tag along on these visits, which was followed up by Thamel with a quote from a veteran compliance official calling the incident “unusual but not incredibly unusual”.

Hate to break it to you guys, but there is nothing common or usual about Noel’s recruitment. First and foremost, he’s the No. 1 recruit in the country, and while I’m not a math whiz or anything like that, I’m pretty sure that there are only one of those each year. Wouldn’t that classify him as an “unusual but not incredibly unusual” recruit? Throw in the fact that he a) transferred high schools b) reclassified to enroll in college a year early and c) had the biggest paper in the country publish a story (also written by Thamel) about the nefarious characters surrounding his recruitment, and there is plenty of reason for the NCAA to do their due diligence in regards to Noel’s eligibility.

As you might imagine, this investigation has UK fans in an uproar that certainly wasn’t helped by Dickie V insinuating that the only reason Noel is being investigated is due to the fact that he went to Kentucky. Frankly, that plays a role.

But given John Calipari’s success on the recruiting trail in recent years, wouldn’t it be more likely that the NCAA investigates a recruit in the event that Kentucky gets beaten out by one of the schools chasing them? Like, oh, I don’t know, Shabazz Muhammad? Is the NCAA paying any attention to him? He’s heading to China with UCLA because not going to Kentucky immediately gets him eligible, right?

What about Rodney Purvis? He’s academically eligible, but the NCAA still hasn’t cleared him, which makes it logical to guess that the issue is an amateurism one. Does he play for Kentucky? What about Ricardo Ledo? I was away last week and must have missed the news that he left Providence.

The difference is that the investigation involving Noel is front page news, and that’s because of the name that will be on the front of his jersey come November and the man that coaches that team.

Look, the bottom line is this: John Calipari is the Teflon Don. He’s the guy that has had two Final Fours vacated without having his name implicated in any of the wrong doing. He’s the guy whose program is associated with World Wide Wes. He’s the guy that has cornered the recruiting market for blue-chip recruits while managing to keep his name out of any and all reports — media, NCAA, and otherwise — that explicitly link him to NCAA violations. There’s an intrigue around the way the he runs his program, the way that he recruits and the people that he associates himself with.

He’s every investigative reporter’s white whale, but that’s because he’s the biggest name in college basketball. If it comes out that Ben Howland “cheated” to get Muhammad or Mark Gottfried cut a check to get Purvis or Ed Cooley was shipping Ledo weekly Ricky Roe duffle bags, how many people care? College basketball fans and … that’s about it, right?

If it turns out that John Calipari has been paying recruits all along, everyone cares. It will be talked about on First Take and Around The Horn for months. I’d bet that at least three issues of Sports Illustrated would have Cal on the cover. I’d be forced to write 1,500 words a day for an entire year about it.

He’s a celebrity running the highest profile program in the country.

Anything that involves Calipari, Kentucky and the NCAA is — and should be — headline news.

If you don’t want the paparazzi chasing after you, don’t become a movie star. If you don’t want the NCAA to investigate your program and news outlets to cover it, don’t hire John Calipari. It comes with the territory.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.