The NCAA recently declared that it was investigating prized Kentucky Wildcats’ recruit Nerlens Noel.
For a program still celebrating a national championship, a Player of the Year award and possible first and second picks in the upcoming NBA draft, the question is whether or not this investigation is putting a damper on their joy.
In short, the answer is no.
Kentucky and coach John Calipari have been through their fair share of NCAA investigations. The school and the players are familiar with the process and know that, if nothing else, investigations have to happen.
At this point, the severity of the situation does not seem to require intense worry on the part of the Wildcats.
Of course, that could all change in the blink of an eye.
For now, though, here is why Kentucky is not too concerned with the NCAA investigation of Noel.
Simply put, Nerlens Noel is the No. 1 basketball recruit in the country. If NCAA investigators did not put in their due diligence and look into Noel’s background, the institution would not be doing its job.
Basketball recruiting is a tough business and one that is governed by rule upon rule. To fully ensure that each and every regulation has been followed by a player, it is necessary to conduct an investigation.
Especially for an individual of Noel’s fame and publicity, it would be almost impossible for the NCAA not to run a quick background check.
At the very least, some Louisville Cardinals or Duke Blue Devils fan would complain sooner or later and blow the entire situation out of proportion.
According to Pete Thamel of The New York Times, the investigation sounds standard and fairly minor. The NCAA sent just two investigators to Noel’s first high school in Massachusetts and met briefly with a school official.
If officials begin to talk to Noel’s classmates, set up some sort of investigation station in Massachusetts or suddenly release ambiguous names and titles of known “associates” to the media, then it might be cause for concern.
Until then, however, the investigation seems necessary and expected.
As every college basketball fan not associated with the Memphis Tigers and the Kentucky Wildcats loves to wryly joke about, John Calipari has been through this before.
Calipari has endured eligibility concerns at every head coaching job he has had. Calipari was questioned about Marcus Camby when coaching the Massachusetts Minutemen, Derrick Rose at Memphis and John Wall at Kentucky.
The NCAA has made it a habit of sending investigators to Calipari’s doorstep (Keep in mind, I am not arguing that investigators do or do not have cause to disproportionately question Calipari).
Due to that intense scrutiny, Calipari has undoubtedly figured out how to deal with these investigations.
At this very moment, he is likely communicating with his players and coaching staff to ensure that they are aware that the investigation does not necessarily indicate any wrongdoing on Kentucky’s part.
Calipari understands what these inquiries mean, likely knows the severity of the situation and has ensured that all of his players from Nerlens Noel to Jarrod Polson understand as well.
As previously stated, the Kentucky Wildcats and John Calipari have been through all of this before.
In the 2009-10 season, Calipari lured prized recruit John Wall to Kentucky’s campus. However, before Wall had even had a chance to suit up in his Wildcats’ blue, the NCAA came knocking on the door.
Eventually, the star point guard was forced to miss two games—one exhibition and the first regular season contest—and repay money he borrowed before playing the rest of the season.
Calipari can use the case of Wall as an example.
Many Kentucky fans were quaking with fear at the thought of having the best piece of their prized recruiting class eliminated.
Fortunately, in the end, everything turned out just fine for the Wildcats and Wall.
The lesson that can be learned from that situation is that almost every high school basketball player makes some sort of recruiting mistake and high-profile recruits are sometimes punished.
However, if coach, college and player all complete the investigation and prove to have only minor violations, the result will be tolerable for all involved
Another bonus for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats’ program? The majority of UK fans are still basking in such a championship high that many have barely noticed the NCAA investigation of Nerlens Noel.
Yes, this is Kentucky where the fans are as rabid as piranhas. Yes, these fans still want championships every single year.
This year’s championship was special, though.
It was the school’s first in 14 years—an eon and a half for Wildcats fans. It was the first for Calipari, validating his unconventional coaching and recruiting approach, and it was won with a special group of players—a four-year, Kentucky-bred senior, a Player of the Year and two super sophomores.
Kentucky fans will not forget the 2012 national championship team for a while.
Fortunately, they still have the NBA draft and autograph signings across the state to occupy their attention.
And who would rather worry about an NCAA investigation than relish the glory of the school’s eighth national championship?
While the Kentucky Wildcats—the players, the coach, the fans and the university—do not seem to be overly concerned about the investigation, Nerlens Noel’s situation might be slightly different.
For one, Noel likely has not been in this type of position before. All of the press he has received in his high-school career has been full of praise.
Unfortunately, the people advising Noel probably did not take the time to talk to him about the high probability that NCAA investigators would begin asking questions.
The one positive for Noel is that his new coach, John Calipari, likely has been in touch with him. Again, Calipari knows how his process goes. He can put Noel at ease, especially given the relative calm of Kentucky fans.
Ultimately, however, only Noel knows how serious this investigation might be. If Noel is unaware of any violations and is nervous simply because he does not know what the NCAA is asking questions about, he should be able to breathe easy soon.
However, if Noel is sweating because he knows that there might be a problem with his eligibility, then he and the rest of the Wildcats should be showing a bit more concern than they have thus far.