The NCAA and John Calipari have had quite the embattled history.
A couple of weeks ago, Pete Thamel of the New York Times reported that the NCAA sent two members of its enforcement staff to Massachusetts (Noel’s home state) to inquire about the recruitment of Noel and the people surrounding the talented center.
Now, is this a case of NCAA officials going on a witch hunt or a diligent effort on their behalf to nip any red flags in the bud before they become potential violations at the next level?
Surely, many passionate Kentucky fans will argue that the Big Brother-like NCAA is picking on Noel because he’s now going to play for the controversial Calipari. After all, the two universities where Calipari coached prior to arriving in Lexington—Massachusetts and Memphis—were hit hard with violations that occurred while he was in charge.
So it’s safe to say that Calipari and NCAA VP of Enforcement Julie Roe Lach aren’t exactly exchanging Christmas cards every year (nor is she and Auburn football coach Gene Chizik). Because of this, some UK fans may assume that the NCAA is trying to dig up dirt on Noel to get Calipari in trouble again.
Then again, Roe Lach doesn’t deploy enforcement officials to these high schools for no reason. If you examine Noel’s situation a bit closer, there are certainly some aspects that raise an eyebrow or two. For starters, Thamel reported that the NCAA is curious as to where Noel came up with the money to make a couple of trips down to the Bluegrass State recently:
N.C.A.A. officials also planned to inquire about Noel’s finances, according to the person briefed on the inquiry. He flew on unofficial visits this year to Kentucky and Louisville that were not paid for by the universities.
And some may try to scrutinize the fact that Noel reclassified before he committed to Kentucky. Noel was originally in the Class of 2012 before changing to the Class of 2013 when he transferred from Everett (MA) High School to New Hampshire’s Tilton prep school a couple of years ago. Then, Noel decided to reclassify back to 2012 before committing to Kentucky.
Of course, players reclassifying is nothing new in the college basketball recruiting game. But it is a little suspicious that Calipari and Kentucky were off of the radar throughout much of Noel’s recruiting process.
For a long time, Big East institutions like Syracuse, Georgetown and Providence were thought to be the favorites to land Noel. Then out of the blue, Noel changed classes and committed to Big Blue in the 11th hour? Something’s not clicking here.
Of course, it’s unfair for me to accuse Noel or Calipari of any wrongdoing right now. As far as everyone knows, no rules were broken in Calipari’s courting of Noel.
But when NCAA enforcement officials come knocking at your door, they’re not merely interested in chatting about basketball over tea and crumpets; they suspect something’s fishy.
We’ll likely find out in the coming weeks if this is just a big stink or a big scandal involving Kentucky’s newest big man.