If Josh Pastner has learned anything this week, it’s that he probably should wish his bag man a happy birthday.
Last week, Georgia Tech announced that Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson were going to miss some games as the result of a investigation into roughly $1,300 in improper benefits they were provided. We reported that this was not the result of the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball, and the Georgia Tech release stated that the person that provided the benefits to the players was not a booster and was not a member of the program.
On Tuesday, we learned exactly what had transpired.
A former friend of Josh Pastner’s named Ron Bell, a man that had known Pastner dating back to his days as an assistant coach at Arizona, had paid for flights, shoes, clothes and put the players up for five days at his house in Arizona. We know this because that man, who is a recovering addict and an ex-convict, spoke to CBS Sports detailing exactly what he provided to the players and to Pastner’s programs over the years. He claims that Pastner provided him money to give to players on Pastner’s Georgia Tech and Memphis teams, and says that Pastner knew precisely what Bell was doing. He also alleged providing benefits to former Memphis Tiger and current Ole Miss guard Markel Crawford.
Here is what Bell said when asked to explain why he decided to turn on Pastner:
He said he feels Pastner has failed to compensate him properly for the “work” he’s done. He said Pastner didn’t call him on his birthday this year, which is something he interpreted as disrespectful. He said he has for a while had a bad relationship with Georgia Tech’s program and operations manager, Ellie Cantkier, and that when the two had a disagreement recently he felt Pastner “took her side.” And Bell also said the FBI scandal that engulfed multiple schools, including his alma mater (Arizona), made him realize he was complicit in something with which he was no longer comfortable.
“I just started to realize [Pastner] is not a friend,” Bell said. “I told him ‘I hold your career in my hands. You’re going to show me respect.’ … I said, ‘I’ve been protecting you for two years. And if you don’t watch yourself, if I start self-reporting, you’re going to be coaching high school basketball.’ And he said, ‘Are you threatening me?’ And I remember it like it was yesterday. I said, ‘Josh, I don’t make threats. Everything I say I’m going to do, I do it.'”
My word, is that petty.
This is where things get complicated.
Because there is nothing in this report that proves that Pastner knew what Bell was doing. As far as I can tell, there is no hard evidence that says that Pastner endorsed this, or that he was the source of the money that made it’s way to the players. It’s Bell’s word against Pastner’s, and if I’m Pastner’s lawyer, my defense is really quite simple: Ron Bell is a troubled man – a former addict and ex-con – that Pastner befriended in Tucson. Pastner brought him around his Memphis and Georgia Tech programs, and it backfired. Bell provided his players with money and trips and clothes without his knowledge, and them attempted to extort him. This line from the report – “[Bell] said he feels Pastner has failed to compensate him properly for the “work” he’s done.” – backs up that defense.
I probably would believe Bell. But is Bell’s word enough for the NCAA to do any kind of real damage to Pastner or the Georgia Tech program after they self-reported the violations?
If I had to guess, Okogie and Jackson will have to repay the value of the benefits they received, they’ll get dinged a game or two, Pastner and his staff will get hit with something minor – maybe a few recruiting sanctions – and we’ll all forget that any of this happened the next time some news in the FBI’s corruption probe comes to light.
As one source phrased it to NBC Sports, “Josh is one of the smartest guys coaching college basketball. He knows how to do things. Highly doubt he would ever put himself in position to be caught.”
But it all could have been avoided if Josh Pastner had just called his bag man on his birthday.