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Monday, May 6, 2013

Keegan

Opinion: McLemore case exposes the seedy underworld of college basketball

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Think of the college basketball we watch on television as the most beautiful stretch of landscape you ever have seen. It may be a mountain vista or a Maui beach or the sights on an Alaskan cruise.

But under that beautiful slice of earth lies the foul underworld of college basketball—the part that involves the pursuit of top NBA prospects by disreputable agents who pay recruiters. Think of that underworld as a tunnel that carries raw sewage.

Thanks to a USA Today report over the weekend that detailed accusations made by Kansas star Ben McLemore’s AAU coach, Darius Cobb, we all have had a window to that seedy underworld opened for us.

The gist of Cobb’s allegations: Serving as what is known in the industry as an “agent runner,” a man wormed his way into the life of McLemore’s AAU coach and family members in an effort to steer McLemore’s choice of agents. He paid for McLemore’s birthday party and for trips to Los Angeles for Cobb and a family member to meet with agents. And, Cobb said, he was given two $5,000 payments.

In the underworld sewer beneath college basketball, these "runners" are among the most insidious vermin. The No. 1 reason Kansas coach Bill Self sequesters his players in their hotel rooms during the NCAA tournament is to keep them away from toxic runners.

Now Kansas basketball fans are left wondering whether the NCAA could come down on the program — which goes to great lengths to warn players against getting involved with runners — for the actions of outsiders.

If Self spent all of his energy trying to identify runners and keep them away from his athletes' friends and family members, he wouldn’t have any time left to yell at his players, implement a defensive strategy that stymies the next opponent or pump up the sagging confidence of a slumping shooter.

Based on the USA Today report, by Eric Prisbell, what happened with McLemore fit a typical pattern: A runner (Rodney Blackstock) wormed his way into the life of the NBA prospect (McLemore) through someone who already was close to the prospect (Cobb, his AAU coach). In the McLemore case, the runner-enablers are Cobb and it appears, though he denied it to USA Today, McLemore’s cousin, Richard Boyd.

Cobb told USA Today that Blackstock paid for him and Boyd to make trips to Los Angeles to meet with agents. If true, that sets up this scenario: The runner receives money up front from multiple agents and a big bonus on the back end from the agent the player chooses — or if he really hits a grand slam, the runner becomes the agent himself.

The player doesn’t have any idea others are cashing in on his talent. It’s best to keep him out of the loop for fear he might resent having his blood sucked by so many.

According to USA Today, McLemore requested tickets for Blackstock for a few KU games. Chances are that was no problem for the Kansas coaches; the name meant nothing to them. He’s not an agent. Why should anyone know his name or worry about him? He seemed to be just a friend of the player.

Let’s say Cobb or Boyd asked McLemore to leave tickets for Blackstock. Even if they told McLemore he was going to introduce the family to prospective agents who could lend advice, there is no rule against that, as long as the runner and/or agents don’t pay for anything and the player doesn’t sign with an agent before exhausting his eligibility. But runners don’t care about breaking the rules.

Runners don’t wear a scarlet ‘R’ on their foreheads, so they aren’t always easy to spot. In some cases, a runner might be a mutual friend of a former teammate. They qualify as the single biggest distraction to college basketball players, particularly at tournament time. Not only do they divert a player’s attention to the NBA, they also are known to whisper in a prospect’s ear bad advice such as, “This is your last chance to show the reputation on you is wrong, that you really do have a good outside shot.” Or, “Your coach is holding you back. You need so show the scouts you can take over games.”

Cobb told USA Today that Blackstock paid for McLemore’s birthday party at Wayne and Larry’s. How could Self or anyone on his staff have prevented that? Nothing short of turning student-athletes into prisoners who are transported in vans from class to class and from practice to their locked cells, with three squares delivered through a small window, could have prevented that. Even that wouldn't work: Under those conditions, the agents would turn classmates or van drivers of the prospect into runners.

Coaches and administrators educate their players on what is and isn’t allowed. They warn them about potential parasites appearing in their lives. But in many cases, it’s not only out of the control of the coaches, it’s out of the control of the players.

Could the NCAA take victories away from Kansas by ruling that McLemore had lost his amateur status? Technically that’s possible, but not likely. If it does, the NCAA would create a great deal more work for itself, because college basketball programs will start turning each other in left and right, based on mostly true rumors that runners are picking up expenses of third parties close to players. It's hardly an uncommon practice.

Nobody detests the existence of agent runners more intensely than coaches, some of the most controlling people on the planet. Yet even coaches can’t come close to controlling them.

Agent runners are people who when you see them you should make you run in the opposite direction as fast as you can to the nearest scalding hot shower — just in case some of their slime has rubbed off on you.

Comments

kay_you 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Enough with the conspiracy theories. The simplest explanation and one with the fewest assumptions is likely the correct one.

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MacHeath 11 months, 2 weeks ago

No kidding wissoxfan. You could pick a person at random walking down the street, and have a better chance of getting good representation.

Man, thats not really a joke! The first thing a kid in Ben's situation ought to do is put a lawyer on retainer. I am sure it would not be a problem to find an attorney that would do that. Not one for the family, but to represent the player only.

I don't have a law degree, but I am available for as advisor....for a small future fee.

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Steve Jacob 11 months, 3 weeks ago

BTW, the USA Today story was was well written and researched, so it's hard to dismiss.

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FearlessJayhawk 11 months, 3 weeks ago

It's all one stinkin mess. That's why I'm not a fan of pro sports period because of all the slimeballs lurking around corners trying to make a buck. It's unfortunate, but that what pro sports has come to. It's all about the money. Everyone, including all the players are all over paid. You can have it.

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patkindle 11 months, 3 weeks ago

you don't need a degree in art, or be an English major to decide this is all about the money, how many parents of ball players get moved to lawrence, with cushy jobs from local alumni when they get here , no one cares about how much tickets are, it is only money when you have plenty, the po folk can watch it on tv

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Randy Maxwell 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Its easy ban AAU its seedy and its bad for college basketball. Let the kids play for their high school and no more like football

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Steve Gantz 11 months, 3 weeks ago

If any of you need an agent or runner or whatever, I'm available.

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jgkojak 11 months, 3 weeks ago

This is about money and ratings. The NCAA doesn't want Kansas anywhere near the Elite 8/Final 4 because our market share isn't big enough - so they will do everything they can to keep us from winning. Witness the Michigan game officiating.

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jaybate 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Tom seems not to be disputing any of the McPaper story reported so far. Instead he seems to be saying agent runners are bad, and Self could not reasonably have known about any wrong doing that happened, in a preventative sense, at least, which though reassuring, may leave open the issue of whether Self had knowledge after the fact (i.e., perhaps failure to report).

Self persists for a few days now with no comment.

John Calipari's reputed ally in recruiting, William Wesley, aka WWW, would seem to fit Tom's description of a rather more well known agent runner, though I have never been able clearly to understand exactly what WWW has done for Cal at Memphis and UK regarding attracting recruits, except that he has long been reputed to be involved with attracting recruits to Cal.

Interestingly Cal reputedly openly pals with WWW and WWW reputedly openly hangs out around Cal and his players. In contrast, Tom makes it appear that Self did not realize Rodney Blackstock was, as Tom opines, an agent runner.

I do not recall Cal has ever been disciplined for working with WWW, so we can probably infer that Self would not be disciplined for associating and allying openly, or covertly, or even unwittingly, with Blackstock, either. It follows then that it must not be the association alone, either intentional, or accidental, that would be sufficient problem to make Self let his no comment stand for a few days now. Something else must be driving his no comment.

I recall Self noting during Ben's PC about going pro that Self made a seemingly inconsequential remark about Ben needing to do what was best for Ben and his family and not others. Maybe it had more import than it appeared at the time and Coach Self anticipated some blowback for advising Ben as he did.

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KansasComet 11 months, 3 weeks ago

AAU Coach took advantage of the situation and got paid. (I don't choose to mention his name) This AAU Coach only cares about himself. This is all about him, his pockets and now his 15 minutes of fame. This guy is not the least bit concerned about the McLemore family, and probably never was. Everyone knows that McLemore did not come from the best of circumstances, and unfortunately, he was taken advantage of. I just hope there is someone to look after this young man, when he begins receiving millions of dollars to play basketball, once his pro career starts.

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William Weissbeck 11 months, 3 weeks ago

What does Jay Bilas have to say? He doesn't have a dog in this fight. Maybe the NCAA would be a better service if they set up a financial/career advice center for all scholarship athletes (at least for the FB and BB ones) to do everything in their power to give these kids advice independent of AAU coaches, agents, runners, alumni angels, etc.

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McMurphy 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Why did this article OMIT THE PAYMENTS to Ben's family (and gifts of clothes) to Ben? Is that not a MAJOR VIOLATION of NCAA rules?

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bennybob 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I dont think the title of this piece needs the caveat "Opinion", I think its a widely accepted fact.

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jhox 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree, Keegan, one of your best to date. The one thing I worry about is that the NCAA has always had it out for Kansas. Larry Brown pays for a recruit to fly to a family funeral, a transfer recruit already on campus and committed, and we get a ridiculously harsh penalty. He definitely was in the wrong and broke rules, but the penalty didn't fit the crime. I just have a bad feeling here that they're going to find a way to hammer us yet again.

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Adam Evans 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Keegan: brilliant piece. One of your best. With that, if its a wiggins conspiracy, it could help to draw attention to the attention bmac is getting. Top 2 pick? Yes please. Not saying he should pick KU because we're corrupt. Quite the opposite. Everyone hates us because we're always good every year and we do things the right way. And can still push out lottery picks every year.

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kay_you 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Blackstock was a CEO of a non-profit so there was no reason for KU to be suspicious but I bet they will start doing background checks from now on.

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Woody Cragg 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Many,many possible motives-Wiggins Calimari, Cobb is still pi$$ed Ben didn't go to misery, he hates KU, blah, blah, blah. Another likely bet is Cobb sold the story to USA cause he's out of the loop with Ben now. This guy would not likely burn his last bridge unless someone else was lining his pocket still. Then again, he may just be that stupid since he's an ex con from misery. At this point nothing should bea surprise.

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Carolyn Hunzicker 11 months, 3 weeks ago

As long as you deal with the ONE AND DONE'S YOUR GOING TO HAVE THIS AT ANY SCHOOL

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BainDread 11 months, 3 weeks ago

So which is it LJW? Blackstop or Blackstock?

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Stephan123 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree. Let this story go away until something of further substance surfaces. Of course, it is slow in sports right now and columnists need some fodder.

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ahpersecoachingexperience 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Haven't we beat this horse enough already?

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kureader 11 months, 3 weeks ago

It's not clear to me as to why Cobb would break this story, when HE was the one who pocketed 10 G's. And, as someone posted earlier, while KU (and even McLemore) seemed unaware of this activity, it's impossible to say what will happen to KU. The NCAA is a joke ... they're totally unpredictable. It's probably good that this happened in the offseason. By fall, we'll be on to other things.

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