College Basketball Nation: Eric Bledsoe

Isiah Thomas brings NBA stars to campus

September, 30, 2011
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In support of Isiah Thomas, the Miami Heat's Big Three are coming to the Florida International campus to play.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will host the South Florida All-Star Classic, with proceeds going to the foundation in honor of the FIU coach's late mother.

"This will be a great event for FIU and the South Florida community," Thomas said in a statement. "We are thrilled that some of the world's greatest basketball players will put on an entertaining show here at FIU. It's also fulfilling to know that this is being done for a good cause. I can't thank LeBron, Dwyane and Chris enough for helping put this together."

Also expected to play in the exhibition, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel?
The game, organized by Miami Heat forward LeBron James, is scheduled to also include teammates Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers. Also scheduled to attend are NBA rivals Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Amare Stoudemire, Russell Westbrook, Jamal Crawford, John Wall, Rudy Gay, Jonny Flynn, Eric Bledsoe, Lou Williams, Wesley Matthews and free-agent center Eddy Curry, as well as former Heat players Dorell Wright and Caron Butler.

Last offseason, Thomas was left in an awkward position when he was forced to backtrack on accepting a consulting position with the New York Knicks that was to have allowed him to coach at FIU as well. The attempted move raised questions about the commitment Thomas was showing the college game.

But at least with this star-studded affair put together for Thomas, it's a reminder of how the NBA connections that Thomas has can be used to shine a light on FIU, which last season finished with an 11-19 record.

"It is exciting to be able to bring an event like this to South Florida," FIU executive director for sports and entertainment Pete Garcia said in a statement. "It is also great to see all of these NBA superstars come together for a great cause here at FIU."

Joe B. Hall kept from coaching ex-UK pros

July, 29, 2011
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John Calipari is coaching the Dominican National team and has arranged an exhibition game on Aug. 15 in which they'll go up against a team of former Kentucky players including Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Tayshaun Prince, Rajon Rondo and John Wall.

Calipari wanted the team of pros to be coached by former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall and former Wildcat Sam Bowie, leaving the 82-year-old Hall thrilled to be making a nostalgic return to the Rupp Arena sideline.

But after it became unclear whether NCAA rules would allow Hall to coach the team, Calipari was forced to backtrack and have his predecessor join him on the Dominican sideline instead. The whole thing has left Hall confused, according to John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
"It’s a little bit embarrassing," said Hall. "To have Coach Calipari ask me to coach the All-Star was an honor. I was happy to do it. He's so thoughtful and been so good to me. He’s always been very respectful and supportive, including me in everything he does. I'm happy to help him out with coaching the Dominican Republic team in any way I can."

Hall said that he thinks that he and Bowie were "unfairly singled out. We didn't do anything. I don't understand how the former players can play in the game, but we can't coach. That makes no sense to me. I’m no danger to anybody. I would just be sitting on the bench. We're not doing any real coaching. No one ever told me that I couldn’t be a part of it until I saw it on television and read it in the paper. No one talked to me to tell me why.

Hall's frustrations are understandable considering it appears that the NCAA rulebook is getting in the way of Calipari's gesture.

Kentucky somehow isn't supposed to be officially affiliated with this game even though Calipari is coaching a Dominican team that includes forward Eloy Vargas against a team of ex-Wildcat pros in Rupp Arena, so apparently Hall can't coach the Kentucky pros, according to The Courier-Journal.
DeWayne Peevy, the UK Associate Athletic Director of Media Relations, is acting as a spokesman for ProCamps Worldwide, which is putting on the event.

He said UK can’t have former players or coaches involved in the production of the event, and it’s unclear whether NCAA rules would allow a former coach such as Hall to coach the team.

“(The NCAA) has worked with us from the start of this event,” Peevy said. “This is the first of its kind so there are no actual exceptions or rules for this type of event.”

Man who led Bledsoe probe speaks out

September, 28, 2010
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In the 1960s, U.W. Clemon marched with Martin Luther King Jr., took part in boycotts and risked plenty in confronting Bull Connor and others in an effort to desegregate the Birmingham Public Library and the city’s school system.

Now, four decades later, Clemon has come face-to-face with a disappointing reality: The schools he fought so hard to make better are still failing their students.

Clemon, who went on to become a prominent member of the state Senate and the first black federal judge in Alabama, led the investigation into Eric Bledsoe's grades, an investigation he called one of the ‘more challenging’ of his illustrious career.

The results -- a teacher deemed not credible by Clemon and a school board that nonetheless validated Bledsoe’s grades -- have been the headlines so far, but really this ought to be as much a referendum on the Birmingham school district as it is on Bledsoe.

Clemon’s investigation revealed a school district that is failing to fulfill its most important charge -- namely protect and preserve a student’s academic records -- and is too much in the red to really dig for answers.

“It was definitely one of the more challenging things I’ve done,’’ Clemon said.

He and his law firm were told to spend no more than $10,000 on its investigation, not a surprise for a school district facing a $3.2 million deficit and no reserves for 2011, according to the Birmingham News. They were also asked to answer one simple question:

“Our sole mission was to compare the grades in the grade books with the grades on the transcripts,’’ Clemon said. “That’s all we were asked to do and we were told to do nothing more than that.’’

However, officials were unable to produce any of the grade books from Bledsoe’s junior year at Hayes High School and only nine of the 15 from Parker High, where Bledsoe attended his senior year.

“Frankly I was surprised that the grade books were missing,’’ Clemon said.

Alabama law requires that schools retain school records for three years.

Hayes High School closed, necessitating Bledsoe’s transfer, and Clemon was told that none of the grade books from that school -- for any student -- were available.

More confounding, Clemon said, were the missing grade books from Parker. Unlike Hayes, Parker, opened in 1900 as the first school in the city for blacks, remains open today.

“We made three separate written requests for all of the grade books from Parker and we were finally told by the representatives that they simply could not be found,’’ Clemon said. “There was no other reason given. We could not give a complete answer [on the report] because most of the grade books were missing. There may have been other grade books showing significant changes, but we will never know.’’

Clemon also said that, of the grade books he was able to look at, some of the grade changes were made much later than when the make-up work was reportedly done.

“Yes, there was a gap; that’s true,’’ Clemon said.

He said he based his decision that the teacher in question was ‘not credible’ based on interviews he conducted and information he was given.

Asked if he was surprised by the school board’s decision to render Bledsoe eligible despite his report, Clemon paused, “Let me defer comment on that.’’

It is easy to cast aspersions on Bledsoe and raise eyebrows at the grade changes Clemon labeled ‘conspicuous’ in his report, but the school district ought to be in the line of fire here, too.

Whether it’s a basketball player hoping to gain eligibility or a brainiac in search of an academic scholarship, a student ought to be able to put his or her head on the pillow and know that the grown-ups in charge of his education are actually doing their jobs.

School superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon was hired in March to help resuscitate the district’s floundering school system. According to Department of Education statistics, 14 schools in the city’s district -- including Parker -- missed making the mark for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as required by the No Child Left Behind Act. AYP is measured by results on standardized tests and other requirements set by each district.

Now the Bledsoe investigation reveals Witherspoon’s job is even harder. He now must contend with incompetence as well as underperformance.

Clemon, who worked so hard to make Birmingham schools better, wouldn’t comment on what the Bledsoe investigation said about the school district, but did hope for one result.

“I would assume that, as a result of the report, the Board of Education would take some measures to ensure the retention of the grade books in the future,’’ he said.

Seems the least they could do.

Calipari: Duke a factor in Elite Eight loss

September, 27, 2010
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Kentucky coach John Calipari had a speaking engagement in Birmingham today, and no, he wasn't talking about Eric Bledsoe. He declined to conduct interviews with reporters at the event, telling the Birmingham News he had to be back in Lexington for event -- a book signing, as it turned out.

But if you read farther down in the Birmingham News story, something interesting did come out of what he told the crowd.
Calipari suggested Kentucky lost to West Virginia in the Elite Eight last season in part because the Wildcats were looking ahead to Duke in the Final Four.

"Do you know how badly we wanted to play Duke?" Calipari said. "I think that's why we played so badly against West Virginia. We wanted Duke so badly we couldn't see straight."

Since the Wildcats couldn't see straight in looking past the Mountaineers, maybe that contributed to a 4-for-32 night from beyond the arc?

Could be, but as memory serves, Bob Huggins' 1-3-1 defense and Kentucky's inexperience probably had more of an effect than any visions of Coach K dancing in the players' heads would.
"I'll be honest," Calipari said. "I really felt we had the best team, not at the beginning (of last season), but at the end. The one thing we were fearful of is that we'd go on a shooting slump, which was the question about our team from Day 1. But we made shots, we willed shots in. And that game, we went 0 for 20 and I kept saying, 'We're going to be alright, and their eyes are like, no we're not.'"

Any way you slice it, Kentucky's big weakness got exposed in the 73-66 loss. And it was actually Calipari who actually said it best himself after the game:

"I don't want to have excuses. They outplayed us."
Make no mistake: The Eric Bledsoe saga is over. The Birmingham Board of Education made its baffling decision, ruling that Bledsoe's transcript wouldn't be changed despite an independent report claiming his teacher was "not credible" on the matter of Bledsoe's grade changes in high school. The NCAA has little business investigating transcripts in defiance of a local school board. And so that, as they say, is that.

Still, plenty of doubt remains in Birmingham. Writing for the Birmingham News, Tom Arenberg explains:
But the biggest head-scratcher is this: It is understandable that the Algebra 3 teacher wouldn't have documentation of the makeup work two years later when he unexpectedly has to talk to an investigator, but I surmise that if the teacher had offered any specific, convincing verbal recollections to the investigators, they would have included that in their report. There are none of those.

If you were the teacher who somehow inspired the school's star athlete to achieve the first A he had ever received in a high school math class and thus allowed him to reach collegiate fame and NBA riches, wouldn't you remember everything about it?

Arenberg writes that the school board seemed predisposed to approving Bledsoe's transcript unless there was airtight evidence to the contrary. Because it's so difficult to prove intent or record when discussing a changed grade -- and it is entirely possible, after all, that Bledsoe made up that work the way his teacher said he did -- that kind of evidence was never going to show up.

In closing, though, Arenberg hits on a matter of much greater importance, and one we probably haven't discussed quite enough in this whole mess:
But this isn't about Eric Bledsoe. This is about the unintended message that the Birmingham school board will potentially send to those teachers, counselors and coaches who have concluded that Bledsoe didn't do the work. And that message would be that it is OK to cut some corners if that can get an athlete into college and maybe beyond.

The danger, of course, is that very few prep athletes are Eric Bledsoe (who himself wasn't a certain pro prospect until his year at Kentucky). For the vast majority of prep athletes who will never play pro or who will find themselves unprepared for college academics, those classroom winks and nods back in high school may prove crippling in real life, especially if that class was basic math or English.

There are plenty of problems with amateur athletics, with the notion of student-athletes, and this is one that isn't limited to college campuses. Nor is it one the NCAA could ever fathom regulating. But far too many athletes are simply passed on up the ladder. They're not expected to perform well in school, so, as long as they don't cause problems in class, the teachers hand them a passing grade (or whatever grade they need for athletic eligibility in their school district) and wish them luck in the game Friday night.

At some point, though, the free ride ends. Maybe it's freshman year of college. Maybe it's after college. Every athlete can't make it to the pros, and somewhere along the line all that passing along catches up.

What do you do about it? I have no idea. Hope there are enough teachers at each school to make sure it doesn't happen? Hope the school board in question takes the issue seriously? This stuff isn't exactly in the college hoops blogger's handbook. But it might be something we -- all of us -- should think about a little more often.
"We think you're lying, but we can't prove it. You're free to go."

It sounds like bad dialogue on a network TV cop drama. (You know David Caruso's dropped that line at least five times. Then the sunglasses go on, and the magic happens.) But it's far more real than that. It is, in essence, the ruling handed down by the Birmingham Board of Education today. And it, for lack of a better term, is profoundly weird.

The Board, in examining allegations that former Kentucky player Eric Bledsoe was potentially ineligible for the 2009-10 Kentucky season thanks to changed grades during his high school years, hired an independent law firm (the Birmingham-based White, Arnold and Dowd) to investigate the matter. One grade in particular, an Algebra III change from a C to an A that just so happened to raise Bledsoe's GPA high enough to make him NCAA-eligible, raised the hair on the school board's neck.

So after three months, that law firm presented its report to the board today, which you can read in PDF form here. The verdict? According to the firm, the teacher's explanation for changing Bledsoe's Algebra grade was "not credible." That would seem to lend itself toward Bledsoe's ultimate ineligibility.

[+] EnlargeEric Bledsoe
AP Photo/John BazemoreEric Bledsoe averaged 11.3 points per game during his lone season at Kentucky, a 35-3 season that will not be vacated because of questions surrounding his high school grades.
But -- and here's the weird part -- the Board decided the firm's report wasn't sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. The grade will remain an A. Bledsoe's transcript lives on. Unless something new comes to light, Kentucky's 2009-10 season goes unvacated.

In other words, a school board used taxpayer money to hire a reputable independent firm, led by former President of the Alabama State Bar Mark White and retired Federal Court judge and Civil Rights pioneer U.W. Clemon, to investigate a former student's transcript. Then, once that firm presented its report -- which, despite the almost-impossible-to-provide evidence of actual wrongdoing, is pretty clear in its judgment, ethics-wise -- the Board decided to basically ignore it. So why spend the money? Why waste the time? Why hire the firm if its investigation only mattered so much?

Naturally, Kentucky fans are rather pleased by this. Still, given the firm's report, it must feel like winning on a technicality.

According to White, Arnold and Dowd, in the first term of the 2008-09 school year, Bledsoe had 10 of 14 recorded scores, including final grades, "conspicuously changed." In the second term that year, seven of Bledsoe's 10 scores were, again, "conspicuously changed." (This makes for funny reading, actually: Because those exact scores are redacted, portions of the report go like this: "However, it appears that a test score of 'RD was changed to 'RD', that a test score was changed from 'RD' to 'RD', and that a test score was changed from 'RD' to 'RD.'" Good to know?)

In both terms, the report says, scores were "written over" to reflect higher grades, as though some third-grader was trying to trick his parents into believing he got a B and not a D. The report also says the teacher in question changed Bledsoe's grades "more frequently than those of any other students in his class."

None of it sounds like an exoneration. Frankly, it sounds a little sleazy. Maybe it's not enough evidence to prove that Bledsoe's transcript rendered him ineligible -- and you can debate the merits of this whole enterprise in the first place -- but it's not exactly "not guilty." Despite all that, the Birmingham Board of Education decided to issue its ruling as such. Which, again: weird.

So what happens now? Not much, probably. The only worry left for Kentucky fans was hinted at by NCAA spokesman Chuck Wynne in the hours before the Board's hearing and report. According to the Birmingham News:
Prior to the release of the Bledsoe report, NCAA spokesman Chuck Wynne wrote by e-mail that the NCAA reserves the right to change the eligibility status of a player if "new and correct" information comes to light that was not previously available.

"The entire process relies on the integrity of information no matter when it is provided/discovered, and who is providing it," Wynne wrote. "If there are questions about the integrity of the information, the institution and the NCAA work together to determine what happened.

"In the end, it's the NCAA's responsibility to get certification right even if it means changing an earlier decision. If the institution knew there was inaccurate information, it becomes an enforcement issue."

If anything, that sounds like the NCAA will at least take a passing glance at the report. More likely, though, is that it's a simple explanation for the NCAA's ongoing eligibility vigilance.

On Friday night, Wynne told ESPN.com's Andy Katz: “We’re going to review the report and then we’ll work with the University of Kentucky to see if that has any impact. That’s the process. The bylaws obligate schools to work with us and Kentucky will work with our Eligibility Center and membership services. We review the report and then a decision would be made. The process has to play out.’’

But it'd be difficult to imagine the organization vigorously pursuing Bledsoe's eligibility further, especially given the Birmingham board's decision. The NCAA can't just reach down and start meddling in the affairs of school boards, after all.

Either way, this is essentially what we're talking about:

  • A high school player that may or may not have had his now-redacted grades changed to meet an arbitrary (and, depending on who you ask, unnecessary) eligibility requirement handed down by a large non-profit organization.

  • A report that says those grades were changed, and the ones who changed them couldn't come up with good reasons why.

  • A school board that said, "Great, but we're taking the teacher's word anyway."

  • And a group of fans apparently ecstatic about this ruling. Why? Because this way, the aforementioned non-profit can't issue a decree saying games that obviously took place -- I saw them; we were there -- never actually took place at all. Reality remains intact. Much rejoicing ensues.

In other words, like I said: profoundly weird. But none of it quite rises to the level of: "We think you're lying, but we can't prove it. You're free to go."

Amidst a mess of inexplicable outcomes, strange explanations and doubtful recriminations, that one has to take the cake.

Summer Buzz: Kentucky Wildcats

July, 21, 2010
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For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject: Kentucky Insider. Up next? Louisville.

Tuesday, I spent much of the Duke post using the word "change." At the risk of getting repetitive ... ladies and gentleman, your 2010-11 Kentucky Wildcats!

John Wall is gone. DeMarcus Cousins is gone. Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton are all gone. Each was taken in the first round of this summer's NBA draft. And that's exactly how John Calipari likes it.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Knight
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteBrandon Knight has some large shoes to fill at Kentucky.
Either by design or by accident, Calipari is forging a new talent strategy at Kentucky. That strategy doesn't mind recruiting one-and-done players. In fact, it actively encourages it.

The difficult part of this strategy is knowing just how good Kentucky is going to be. The 2009-10 Cats were easier. Wall was always going to be a force and Patterson was a star under former coach Billy Gillispie. Bledsoe had the combo-guard skills to start alongside Wall; Cousins was, at the very least, going to rebound. (He ended up doing much more than that.)

The 2010-11 team is much more difficult to predict. Can new point guard Brandon Knight lead as intuitively and seamlessly as Wall? Will Enes Kanter replace the rebounding and interior defense of Cousins? (Related question: Can Kanter get eligible in time for it to matter?) Can new guards Doron Lamb and Stacey Poole give Kentucky some measure of outside shooting? Is Terrence Jones, the most indecisive UK commitment of all-time, good enough to replicate Patterson?

All of that seems doubtful, which is why the Wildcats aren't likely to be as dominant in the SEC as they were in Calipari's first season on the job. There is reason to think this team can be awfully good, though, and the reason is Calipari.

Coach Cal is often maligned as a master recruiter who lacks the X's and O's ability of his successful contemporaries. There might be some truth to that. (The decision not to foul in the 2008 Kansas-Memphis title game might haunt him the rest of his life.) But since the coach hit his elite-level stride at Memphis in 2005-06, Calipari's teams have always been good at two things: Chemistry and team defense.

The former alleviates concerns about mixing in new talent. It also points to a simple fact that some Calipari haters oftentimes forget: The dribble-drive offense. His system works because it reduces responsibility and makes the game simple. In 2009-10, the style of the Cats dictated a slower tempo, but Kentucky's new blood will be running again in 2010-11. Freshmen might take a while to learn college hoops, but it doesn't get much easier than learning it Cal's way.

The latter in that equation -- team defense -- is where Calipari's teams are always underappreciated. Take a look at the defensive efficiency of his last five teams (stats, as always, courtesy of Ken Pomeroy):
You get the idea. Calipari's teams can play defense. So can a lot of other teams, right? So what?

The reason why this is so important for Kentucky is because of Calipari's recruiting style. All of the teams mentioned above featured a bevy of young players. A portion of those players were elite one-and-done talents.

Coaches often complain that AAU and high school basketball is so easy for the best players in the country that they learn bad habits, and those bad habits manifest themselves in poor team defense. "Everybody knows how to score, but not everybody knows how to play basketball." How often do you hear college coaches say that?

Not Calipari. He manages to take the best talent in the country and unleash it on the college hoops world, but he doesn't just do so by playing to that talent's desire for stardom or scoring or high-flying alley-oops. It's easy to picture teams with so much young talent lapsing into lazy summer league defense. Instead, Calipari makes them buy in. On both ends. The result is teams that combine those dribble-drive-created offensive flurries with stifling, harassing team defense. It's just what Calipari teams do. There's no reason to expect the 2010-11 Cats to be any different.

There was simply too much turnover in Lexington this summer to know much about the 2010-11 Wildcats. We don't know how they'll respond to adversity. We don't know whether Brandon Knight can be John Wall. We don't know if they'll rebound, especially now that Cousins isn't hoovering everything in sight on the offensive end. We don't know whether this is an Elite Eight team or a No. 6 seed. We don't know how good they'll really be.

What we do know is that Kentucky will play incredibly efficient defense. We'll see if the rest, as it so often has for Calipari, can take care of itself.
One portion of the New York Times' investigation into former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe's eligibility issues focused on a landlord's claims that Bledsoe's high school coach paid about $1,200 of the player's rent in a neighborhood that allowed Bledsoe to play for that coach at A.H. Parker High School. If true, that arrangement would have violated Alabama high school sports eligibility rules. It also would have been slightly icky, even if it's the sort of thing that probably happens all the time in high school sports.

The landlord, Brenda Axle, has since disputed the Times' reporting of her account, saying she received money from Ford a couple of times but always assumed the money came from Maureen Reddick, Bledsoe's mother. Now Bledsoe's family friends are chiming in and saying they paid the rent after all. From the Birmingham News:
Billy Fagnes, who is a first cousin to Bledsoe's mother, Maureen Reddick, said his family paid most of the rent on the house where Reddick and Bledsoe lived during his senior year at Parker. Also, Jerome McMullin, who described himself as a close family friend, said that although Ford found the family an affordable home, McMullin helped the family pay the rent during some difficult financial times. Ford did not pay any rent, McMullin said.

"They went through some hard times and I helped them pay their rent," said McMullin, adding that he paid a total of about three months of rent. "I took them to get food for them. There's a lot of things they didn't have and people stepped up to the plate and helped out. I never asked for anything or any kind of favor. I did it out of the goodness of my heart. Maurice didn't do anything."

"It was me and my family who paid it," Fagnes said. "One time, I gave the rent money to Maurice Ford because the landlady was running late and I'm a contractor and had to get to work. So I gave it to Maurice Ford to give to her."

Why give money to a coach to pay a landlord? That doesn't make much sense, but Axle (who, for those of you as confused as I am, is the landlord) said the arrangement provided an easy way to pick up the rent, because she often worked at the same high school as Bledsoe's coach, Maurice Ford. OK then.

It's all a little fishy. Giving a coach money to pay a landlord, when that could very easily be construed as the coach actually paying the rent himself, is a terrible idea. You're practically inviting people to assume Ford was paying the rent, right? If he isn't, then why take the risk?

But just because something is ill-conceived doesn't mean it's not true. In the end, it'll be up to the Alabama High School Athletics Association to determine whether that excuse passes muster, and whether any of the issues raised by the NCAA and the New York Times' report end up costing Bledsoe any sort of eligibility. Stay tuned, I guess.
From a college basketball perspective, there was one big winner at Thursday night's NBA draft: the University of Kentucky men's basketball program.

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall
Jerome Davis/Icon SMIThe Wizards selected Kentucky's John Wall with the first overall pick in the NBA draft.
As if John Calipari needed to boost his NBA-friendly reputation any more. And yet he did: Calipari's first season at Kentucky produced the No. 1 overall pick in the draft (John Wall), the No. 5 pick (DeMarcus Cousins), a third lottery pick at No. 14 (Patrick Patterson), and two more first-round picks in point guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Daniel Orton. That's -- count 'em -- five first-round picks. Um, wow.

Yes, it was a good night for the Big Blue, though perhaps not quite as good as Calipari thought. Early in the night, he told an ESPN reporter that this was the "biggest night in the history of Kentucky basketball." There are seven national championships hanging from Rupp Arena that might disagree with Coach Cal on that point.

Still, considering Calipari's most notable coaching talent -- recruiting -- you can understand his enthusiasm. The coach managed to get five players, three of whom were one-and-done freshmen, into the first round of the NBA draft. The last two picks are especially impressive: Bledsoe could have taken his point guard brilliance somewhere else once Wall committed to Kentucky, but Calipari convinced him to stay and play combo-guard, and Bledsoe's draft stock not only didn't fade but actually improved. Meanwhile, Daniel Orton played a measly 13.4 minutes per game in 2009-10, averaging 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. And still he was taken in the first round of the draft.

Which is, in the end, the biggest weapon in Calipari's recruiting arsenal: the NBA draft. Calipari already has a track record of producing NBA-friendly talent. Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, the last two NBA rookie of the year winners, came from Calipari's Memphis program. With Rose and Wall, the coach has now nurtured two of the last three No. 1 overall picks. This is already paying off in recruiting -- top young point guards like Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague have already committed to Kentucky for the next two seasons, and Calipari's point guard production is the main reason why.

But when you extend the depth and breadth of Calipari's draft success -- when you can get your off-guard and a 13-minutes-per-game role player drafted in the first round -- every elite recruit under the sun is going to take notice. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The most talented players will go to Kentucky to improve their NBA draft chances. Then they'll get drafted. Then a new cycle of players, observing the success of their predecessors, will repeat the process all over again.

You don't have to go to Kentucky to get drafted. At this point, though, it doesn't seem to hurt. That's an exciting prospect for Kentucky fans (so long as they're willing to deal with a slew of one-and-done players, and I'd assume they are) and a thoroughly scary one for everyone else.

John Calipari exposes fake Twitter accounts

June, 18, 2010
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There exist numerous reasons a recruit might desire to play for Kentucky, and here's another one:

John Calipari will verify that a Twitter account in your name is actually yours.

In recent tweets to his million-plus followers, Calipari has exposed fake accounts apparently set up by impostors of incoming freshmen sensations Enes Kanter and Brandon Knight.

No, it might not really have been necessary for Calipari to make mention of Knight's fake account, given that it's a portrayal of "Sir Brandon Knight," a British knight purportedly living in Lexington who goes around tweeting things like "how art thy fam?"

But Calipari does appear to be taking a firm stand against phoniness and is providing an online service for his players because of it.

Being the real deal, after all, is so much more delightful, no?
Before last week's Eric Bledsoe quasi-bombshell, it was fair to say that most college hoops fans weren't all that familiar with the work of the NCAA's Eligibility Center. A week later, few of us are experts on the matter, but thanks in large part to some good explanatory reporting from the Lexington Herald-Leader's Jerry Tipton, we're getting there.

Questions revolve around Bledsoe's suddenly improved high school transcript and some alleged ugliness on the part of his coach in marketing Bledsoe as a prospect, among other potential issues. Tipton discussed those issues with a private investigator, who said that Kentucky should have known if Bledsoe had potential red flags on his transcript even if Bledsoe was cleared by the NCAA's Eligibility Center. That way, Kentucky wasn't risking an investigation after Bledsoe had already completed his one-and-done year at the school.

This is a confusing notion for most college hoops fans. Why should a school be held liable for a player's ineligibility if the NCAA's own Eligibility Center cleared that player in the first place? How is that fair?

Thing is, it's not. But it happens anyway, because the Eligibility Center just isn't big, agile, or well-endowed enough to catch every potential problem player from the start. To wit:
The short answer is that in these cases — "a very small percentage" each year according to the NCAA — new information surfaces that dramatically changes how to judge an incoming freshman's eligibility. Also the initial ruling on a player's eligibility can be preliminary in nature given that the NCAA's Eligibility Center has less than 55 employees charged with judging whether about 90,000 incoming athletes each year can play for college teams. [...]

In explaining the fairness in a player being judged eligible and subsequently ruled ineligible, Wynne noted that the normal preliminary eligibility review can be a cursory look at the two components that determine eligibility: the grade-point average in 16 core courses and the college entrance exam score.

"No red flags and you're off to the next transcript," Wynne said.

In other words, if you don't submit your transcript to the NCAA with a giant red sticker on it that says "I probably don't deserve to get into college! My transcript is really suspicious! You should probably take a look at this thing!", there's a decent chance you're going to get past the NCAA Eligibility Center. And even if you do put that big red sticker on your transcript, it's entirely possible the worst that happens is the NCAA submits you to a follow-up "extensive review" -- which happens each year to hundreds of applicants, one of which was Eric Bledsoe -- and your chances of getting in are still pretty good.

It's a 55-employee center servicing 90,000 applicants each year. You could make the argument that those 55 employees could do a better job. Maybe so. But it's not hard to see why some transcripts slip through the cracks. That's almost 100,000 cracks.

So the NCAA misses some stuff. Then, when new information comes to light, information that might take a year or two to surface, it goes back and judges the eligibility of the player again. Which is why the Derrick Rose-SAT stuff happened at Memphis and why the NCAA can and will investigate what it views as questionable stuff on the part of Bledsoe or anyone else it hears naughty things about, even if those naughty things got past its initial review process.

Which brings us back to the moral of the story, for Kentucky and any other school thinking about signing a recruit with potential red flags: It's on you. (Schools surely already know this, but it's something of a new concept for yours truly, so bear with me.) The Eligibility Center may clear a player, but it assumes no responsibility for being wrong and reserves the right to come after you if it misses something and you benefit. This may seem unfair, but all it asks of member schools is that they assume the consequences for not remaining vigilant about eligibility and admissions.

It's not exactly a radical stance. It's also not the best way to manage eligibility. But, in the immortal and overused words of Brian McNamee, it is what it is. It's the only system the NCAA has. Schools better act accordingly.

Calipari earns some good press

June, 3, 2010
6/03/10
11:50
AM ET
It hasn't been the best week for John Calipari. The New York Times' report on the NCAA's investigation into Eric Bledsoe's collegiate eligibility -- including possible discrepancies in his transcripts, among other unsavory possibilities -- has, for better or worse, gotten everybody talking about Kentucky's newest coach again.

That didn't take long, either. Thanks to the LeBron sweepstakes, Calipari has been in the headlines for much of the offseason. His ability to stay in the conversation, whether intentional or not, is pretty otherworldly.

But there was some good news for Calipari's defenders this week. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Calipari and his wife donated $1 million to Streets Ministries, a charity that works to help underprivileged children in Memphis.

It's not a major story, to be sure, but it is interesting for a couple of reasons. One: People who genuinely dislike Calipari as a basketball coach have to admit that all in all, he's not a bad guy, nor has he ever really seemed like a bad guy. This sort of thing exemplifies that. Two: Memphis fans who can't stand Calipari -- the coach left the program just as it was suffering its run-in with the NCAA, so that's pretty much all of them -- have to soften at least a little bit with this, right?

At the very least, it should earn Calipari some good press, and maybe some good karma, as he deals with the blossoming Bledsoe story. Most importantly, it's just a really nice thing to do.

Calipari, Bledsoe in no mood to comment

June, 2, 2010
6/02/10
3:45
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Reporters at the SEC meetings Wednesday were able to track down Kentucky coach John Calipari to see what comment he might offer about the New York Times report that former player Eric Bledsoe is the subject of an NCAA investigation regarding possible improper benefits received in high school.

Calipari sidestepped some questions, according to the Birmingham News:
Asked if he stands behind how he evaluates transcripts, Calipari responded: "What? What kind of question do you ask me? I already told you the school commented on that."

Calipari said "we're good on that" when asked if he has talked with Bledsoe. Calipari said he would rather not have the controversy, "but I can't control if somebody chooses to write something. I don't have any control over that."

Asked if he thinks people are going to continuing coming after him because of his success in recruiting, Calipari responded: "One thing I will say is coaching at Kentucky is like being in politics. You've got your core group that absolutely loves you and the others are trying to unseat you. That's just how it is if you're at Kentucky."

Meanwhile, the Courier-Journal today got to Bledsoe following his workout with the Indiana Pacers, but he declined to address the report as well.
Bledsoe said that his focus was on being the second point guard taken in the NBA Draft after his former UK teammate John Wall.

"That's all I'm trying to do right now, come in and work and try to be a lottery [pick]," Bledsoe said.
And no, I'm not talking about your sweet day party Saturday afternoon when you iced bros for hours on end. I'm talking, of course, about the weekend in college hoops. It was four days away from the computer for yours truly, four days of fingers twitching, four days of sneaking glances at the laptop, four days of waiting for the chance to get back on Tuesday and get down to business. Because in case you hadn't noticed we just had our biggest weekend in college hoops news since April 3-5. Yeah, it was like that.

In the interest of getting back up to speed, let's take a brief bulleted look at the story we missed thanks to the holiday weekend -- the Eric Bledsoe eligibility fiasco. (For more on UConn and USC, click here and here, respectively.)

1. The NCAA is investigating whether Eric Bledsoe should have been cleared to play as a college freshman in 2009-10.
  • Origin of the story: The New York Times
  • Pertinent details: "Brenda Axle, the landlord for the house where Bledsoe and his mother moved for his senior year of high school, said that Bledsoe’s high school coach paid her at least three months’ rent, or $1,200. ... A copy of Bledsoe’s high school transcript from his first three years reveals that it would have taken an improbable academic makeover — a jump from about a 1.9 grade point average in core courses to just under a 2.5 during his senior year — for Bledsoe to achieve minimum N.C.A.A. standards to qualify for a scholarship. ... A college coach who recruited Bledsoe said that Ford explicitly told his coaching staff that he needed a specific amount of money to let Bledsoe sign with that university."
  • Invaluable analysis: From Dana O'Neil, ESPN.com: "Revelations and allegations in a recent New York Times article that chronicle potential academic fraud and payment during Eric Bledsoe's high school career could have a ramifications for the University of Kentucky basketball program, despite the fact Bledsoe has declared for the upcoming NBA draft. A source with knowledge of NCAA rules said 'depending on the specific facts that come out,' the NCAA's options include deeming Bledsoe ineligible, which could potentially lead to forfeited games or even a vacated season."
  • What people are saying: Louisville Courier-Journal's Rick Bozich on "Teflon John"; Lexington Herald-Leader's John Clay on whether Kentucky fans should start seeing the negative in Calipari's ways; A Sea of Blue on how life as a UK fan could get tougher, even if Calipari isn't cleared of all wrongdoing.
Final takeaway: There is much more that has to shake out before any grand, sweeping conclusions can be drawn about Eric Bledsoe's time at Kentucky. Of course, that doesn't prevent said sweeping conclusions from being drawn. While waiting for finality here, it's worth mentioning that for most people, the name Eric Bledsoe won't matter. Because here's the sordid truth about John Calipari: College basketball fans have for the most part made up their minds. They think he's a cheater. Or, failing that, they think he's ethically flexible. That's the perception, whether Calipari has ever been actually guilty or not. The truth of the matter is that he's never been implicated in a scandal, and if Bledsoe EligibilityGate gathers steam, that'll be true again. But it won't matter. It'll only add to John Calipari's legacy in most fans' eyes, a legacy he's sealed with his incredible success and timely departures from UMass and Memphis before arriving at UK.

Bledsoe won't be the story here. Calipari will, whether that's fair or not. But we've got a long way to go before this story -- and interest surrounding the details of Calipari's historically jaw-dropping recruiting hauls -- is over.

Where does Kentucky go from here?

May, 10, 2010
5/10/10
1:09
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Kentucky head coach John Calipari said he never thought he would lose five players to the NBA draft when the season started, saying he only anticipated losing freshman point guard John Wall and junior forward Patrick Patterson.

"I thought Eric Bledsoe would stay,'' Calipari said. "I wasn't sure about Daniel Orton because of his knee injury and I wasn't sure DeMarcus Cousins would grow as a person and be ready to leave. Once the season ended, I knew I'd lose all five.''

Wall, Cousins and Patterson left no doubt in their cases once they declared with an agent by the initial April 25 deadline. Bledsoe and Orton left the window open slightly by not hiring agents, but then on Friday informed Calipari, as expected, that they too were staying in the draft. All five could go in the first round.

Calipari didn't plan in the early signing period to lose all five underclassmen. That's why once again he had to go through a furious spring to secure elite players. Expect incoming freshmen point Brandon Knight, guards Doron Lamb and Stacey Poole and center Enes Kanter to be in the rotation immediately. Knight and Lamb were late signees.

Calipari will also have wings Darius Miller, Darnell Dodson and DeAndre Liggins and forwards Josh Harrellson and Jon Hood in the rotation.

"We're going to be good, we're just going to be a different kind of team,'' Calipari said. "We do need a few more guys, maybe one more forward.''

Calipari said he will be studying how the New York Knicks play and is considering going with four guards and one forward or at times having five players out to use more of his dribble-drive-motion offense.

"We have enough good players,'' Calipari said. "I'll spend the next few months trying to figure it out. I'd like to have four perimeter guys who are 6-3 or taller and one big guy defensively, who can set ball-screens, trail and run to the post and elbow and play. Hopefully if we face a 1-3-1, we'll make more 3s."

Clearly, UK's woeful 4-of-32 performance from 3 in an Elite Eight loss to West Virginia hasn't strayed far from Calipari's mind.

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