This story by Mike Fish of ESPN.com's Outside the Lines really got my blood boiling this morning. It is a pretty long read, and tied in with the A-HOPE/Indiana Elite scandal that is now breaking like a tsunami on Hoosierville, Indiana (officially known as Bloomington).
The story is basically this: Mike Barnett, a founder of Indiana Elite, was understandably involved in DeAndre Liggins' life when Liggins was playing for that AAU team back when Liggins was in high school. Barnett knew that Liggins came from a distressed family background, and "opened [his] home" to him in order to keep him away from the tough Chicago neighborhood he was from.
Barnett then tried to steer Liggins away from Kentucky. Even though Barnett is clearly an IU fan, he claims to be friends with John Calipari, but back then, Billy Gillispie was the UK coach, and he was "Anti-UK at the time." Glynn Cyprien was recruiting Liggins, and Barnett claims that Cyprien was not going "by the book." We are left to wonder what that means.
Barnett floated the idea of legally adopting Liggins:
At one point, with Liggins unable to play for Indiana Elite because of a serious foot injury, Barnett is alleged to have discussed adopting the Chicago teenager, which sources said was not solely a benevolent gesture but one designed to expand his influence over Liggins. Barnett loudly denies it, but seven people -- among them Liggins, his mother and an NCAA official -- told ESPN.com that he indeed had proposed the idea.
Leaving aside for an instant the accusations that the proposed adoption was motivated by more than benevolence, I find this notion of adoption of a player by agents very questionable. Yes, Liggins was from a tough place, and by all accounts, he was largely raised by his grandmother. His mother's involvement in his life is hard to follow, but in any case, this raises red flags, and I am inclined to believe the people who were skeptical of Barnett's motivations.
Not only that, it is a little disturbing having a guy who is an agent for others effectively running his recruitment:
"DeAndre is the only kid ever in our program where I opened my home to the point of saying, 'I'll do whatever I can to help you,'" Barnett says. "I will admit that I was fielding most of the [recruiting] calls because he was living here a lot."
Bottom line - this agent with an agenda was trying to direct Liggins' recruitment. Forget the reasons for his agenda, they are peripheral. This is exactly the kind of thing that agents have no business doing without the say-so of the parents, and apparently, Liggins' mother had other ideas -- Cyprien was talking to her (that would seem right to me) and helped convince Liggins to come to Kentucky through his family:
Cyprien, now an assistant at Memphis under Josh Pastner, declined comment, though he did say that he purposely chose not to deal with Barnett during Liggins' recruitment.
After reading the story, I don't wonder why. Barnett was clearly, in my personal opinion, motivated by something far less ethical than altruism. He was effectively acting as a street agent acts, trying to ingratiate himself to a player in hopes of future financial reward. The article also asks us to believe that Barnett is no longer "Anti-UK," although that is implied by the fact of his alleged friendship with Calipari more than actually stated. Again, color me totally skeptical.
At the end of the day, this affair wound up getting Liggins declared ineligible by Kentucky to play in games during Calipari's first season. Those who speculated that Liggins was suspended because of grades or some other issue now know the truth of the matter. The article says that the NCAA directed UK to do this, but Dewayne Peevey flatly denied that yesterday.
To be honest, I'm not sure that there are prima facia NCAA violations in the incestuous Indiana Elite/A-HOPE/IU relationship, but it does add to the perception of seediness in college basketball and is a public relations nightmare for Indiana University. I believe Tom Crean is as clean as any coach in the business, but his defense of the arrangement is not one of his brighter moments:
And he [Crean] acknowledges that hiring Drew Adams afforded IU inroads to some prime talent from A-HOPE and Indiana Elite. In that, Crean praises Adams as a bright coaching prospect, a tireless worker and underpaid at that, suggesting he turned down considerably more money to return home to Bloomington. And if he hadn't hired Adams, some other brand-name program would have, he says. Adams couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.
IU would be well advised to distance themselves from this mess posthaste, or risk getting a reputation that will continue the legacy of Kelvin Sampson, fairly or unfairly.
As Kentucky fans, we know a little something about that.