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.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.