In the first part of this series, we began looking at the list of bullet points sports journalists seem to mention whenever they talk about John Calipari as an indictment of his coaching career, and reasons why the UK-Calipari marriage is destined to fail in a blizzard of NCAA investigations. The first article in the series examined the infamous Marcus Camby incident at the University of Massachusetts. In this second part, we will look at another one on the list -- William Wesley.
If you haven't heard of him, let me tell you a little about Wesley. William Wesley, AKA "Worldwide Wes" is one of the more interesting figures roaming the wasteland between top amateur basketball talent and the NBA. We all have heard horror stories about the street agents (like the ones responsible for Camby's woes) and the other hangers-on that tend to surround these talented young NBA aspirants that populate the elite ranks of high school and prep school basketball. Wesley plays in that same sandbox, and is a long time friend of John Calipari, which is why he raises so many concerns.
You will see Wesley variously described as a mentor, a confidant, an adviser, and "uncle", a power broker, a "runner," and many other variations on that theme. What you will not see him described as is an agent, because that is not what he does. In fact, one of the reasons that William Wesley draws such suspiciousness is that nobody really knows exactly what he does, or more importantantly, who pays him.
Wesley clearly has influence among many of the NBA's superstars, including LeBron James, Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan just to name a few, but that is only the beginning of his reach. GQ Magazine did a famous piece on William Wesley entitled, "Is This the Most Powerful Man in Sports?" Wesley's official job is a mortgage broker, but his intimate involvement with the biggest names in the NBA both on and off the court, the shoe companies and the AAU circuit that make Wesley such an obvious source of concern for many.
The GQ author tried unsuccessfully to pierce the ambiguous veneer Wesley shrouds himself in, and few of the people who know him best were willing to discuss what he actually does. But one very interesting thing it does reveal is that Wesley got his start with Milt Wagner, former U of L basketball player and friend of Wesley from their days in Camden, NJ, along with Billy Thompson, who also went to Louisville. Wesley was an intimate part of the famous Louisville "Camden Connection" and Billy Thomson described him as " ... part of the team" when Louisville was at the final four in 1986. Milt Wagner got Wesley a meeting with Michael Jordan a few years later, and Jordan wound up giving him a job at one of his camps. That was the beginning of Worldwide Wes as we now know him.
The incident that got Calipari all the heat revolved around Milt Wagner's son, Dajuan. As you no doubt recall, Dajuan was the consensus best player in America coming out of high school in 2001, and was inclined to go directly into the NBA back before the NBA raised its age limit. Wesley persuaded Dajuan to go to college for a year or two, and knew Calipari well even before his days in the NBA at New Jersey. Wesley arranged a package deal for the younger Wagner and his friend, Arthur Barclay to go to Memphis. At the same time, Dejuan's father, Milt, who did not yet have a college degree, was offered the position of Director of Basketball Operations for Memphis, although Wesley's invovlement in that seems a little less clear, even though it looks obvious. The media assailed all this as moral turpitude cloaked in a thin veneer of "It isn't against the rules" legitimacy. The elder Wagner stayed in the position for six years, got his degree from Memphis, and is now an assistant coach at UTEP. They younger Wagner went on to the NBA after one year at Memphis.
Wesley was instrumental in helping Calipari recruit Derrick Rose to Memphis, and Tyreke Evans after him. How instrumental? We don't know, and probably never will. It isn't as if John Calipari could not recruit without Wesley. But Wesley's association with Calipari is many times an asset, and one of the things that set him apart from other coaches.
So who knows what Wesley does? Not NBA commissioner David Stern:
“Your story didn’t shed any light on it,” Stern said. “It was an interesting profile to see how one can be around and be influential and be open and above board.”
That's William Wesley -- open and above board. Nobody has dirt on this guy, not really. Nobody has anything bad to say about him except for competitors, or people who presume the worst. Does he profit from his associations by taking graft and kickbacks? I have no idea, but if so, nobody will say.
Ultimately, William Wesley seems to be very much like "Red" Redding (portrayed by Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption) -- Wesley is a guy who can get things. He can get you a meeting with Michael Jordan, or introduce you to Jay-Z or Beyoncé Knowles. But unlike Red, he doesn't take 20% -- or if he does, he gets it by some unknown mechanism.
So what does all this mean for Coach Cal? Well, William Wesley is, and has been, to put it in law enforcement parlance, a "person of interest" for the NCAA for some time. Because his dealings are so upfront but his agenda and motivation for what he does so opaque, you can't blame them for being suspicious and most of the rest of us for being curious. I am convinced Calipari has no intention of dissociating himself from Wesley, and even though there is no evidence of anything untoward vis-a-vis the NCAA rules, it is no surprise that some Kentucky fans are uncomfortable with an association that appears so byzantine and unclear and it will be the subject of derision from program and Calipari detractors from now until doomsday.
But the bottom line is, there doesn't seem to be anything in all this that smacks of an NCAA violation or that could run afoul of the rules. It is not against NCAA rules for Wesley to independently associate himself with NBA and high school players, as long as he isn't performing the actions of an agent, either directly or indirectly. It isn't an NCAA violation for Wesley to personally recommend a school or a coach to a recruit that he associates with, or who solicits his advice. Wesley doesn't even seem to recommend to all his talented "nephews" to work any one agent once they make the jump. Does it make one wonder what benefit he derrives from his actions? Yes, it does. Does that make them wrong? No, it doesn't.
Until William Wesley is implicated in some kind of scandal (and he has remained scandal-free despite many opportunities), I think that it might be just a little unfair to assume the worst. None of Wesley's friends or associates have ever turned on him, and loyalty is a quality that is difficult to come by in the rough-and-tumble land of the modern NBA. Perhaps William Wesley is exactly what he portrays himself to be -- a man who can get you in front of almost anyone among the NBA power elite, and not ask you for a single thing in return.