College Basketball: Kansas' Ben McLemore's AAU Coach Reportedly Accepted Money From Agent During 2012-13 Season

Ben McLemore's AAU coach has placed him in the center of an NCAA storm. - Jamie Squire

What will the latest revelations about Ben McLemore's AAU coach mean for Kansas?

So we have here a story by Eric Prisbell of USA Today exposing apparent payoffs from an NBA "agent" to Ben McLemore’s former AAU coach:

Ben McLemore’s former AAU coach says he received thousands of dollars in cash, lodging, meals and trips from a middle man who courted the Kansas player on behalf of sports agents and financial advisers during the 2012-13 college basketball season.

Darius Cobb, a St. Louis-based AAU coach, told USA TODAY Sports that he accepted two cash payments of $5,000 during the regular season from Rodney Blackstock, the founder and CEO of Hooplife Academy, a sports mentoring organization based in Greensboro, N.C.

It should go without exposition that close friends and family are not allowed to benefit financially from a player’s athletic potential while he is in college by NCAA rule.

John Infante has a particularly insightful post that explains what we know now in light of the NCAA’s rulebook:

The starting point is Bylaw, which says that an athlete is ineligible if he or she or friends or relatives receives benefits from an agent. Under Bylaw 12.02.1, the NCAA’s new and expansive definition of an agent (a.k.a. the Cam Newton rule), Blackstock almost certain can be classified as one. In fact, Cobb might fall in the category as well, which includes anyone who:

Seeks to obtain any type of financial gain or benefit from securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment at an educational institution or from a student-athlete’s potential earnings as a professional athlete.

If the NCAA goes this route, then not only might the alleged payments and gifts to Cobb and a cousin of McLemore’s render the player ineligible, but the payments from Cobb to McLemore might be as well, provided they came after Cobb is tagged as an agent.

It’s important to remember that the NCAA has no subpoena power, and none of those involved can’t be forced to verify what has been exposed in the paper. You would think, though, that at least one of the parties would be willing to do so, since Cobb (the former AAU coach) has come forward to USA Today. That may well be enough, along with documentary evidence.

What’s Cobb’s motivation? Rock Talk Chalk thinks that he has been cut out of the McLemore money pipeline and has decided to extract some vengeance:

Last note, as to why the AAU coach decided to tell about it now, reading between the lines it seems pretty obvious that the guy has fallen on hard times monetarily and probably was cut off by the McLemore camp, so he decided to go scorched earth on them, whether they are true or not. The ironic thing, of course, is that by doing this he’s greatly diminishing the chances that agents will offer him things in the future.

The "whether they are true or not" part seems like wishful thinking, since Prisbell, the author of the USA Today article, didn’t write it without at least one confirming source. Unsurprisingly, that source is anonymous:

A person who became close to Blackstock to help him build relationships with players and their families confirmed knowledge of Blackstock’s payments to Cobb. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity so he would not harm his relationships with those involved.

Prisbell also claims to have receipts, photographs, emails and bank records to support the allegations made by Cobb.

If I were a Kansas fan, I’d be skeptical of this, also. But let’s be honest, Kansas didn’t do anything obviously wrong at all here, and neither did McLemore, necessarily. McLemore could claim ignorance of the payments, although it’s pretty clear that McLemore didn’t pay for him and his cousin’s trip to Los Angeles, and neither did his mother.

It’s also notable that McLemore’s cousin, Richard Boyd, denied ever going to Los Angeles with Cobb and Blackstock, despite the fact that there is apparently photographic evidence that he did.

There is also evidence that Blackstock directly paid for McLemore’s birthday party, a matter of $400-500. If that can be substantiated, and since a credit card is allegedly involved, it very well could be that payment in and of itself could seriously jeopardize McLemore’s eligibility from that point on, whether McLemore knew it or not.

There is also the documented fact that McLemore left several of his tickets alloted to him for Kansas games for the money man, Blackstock. Yes, it is possible that McLemore did that at the behest of Cobb and didn’t know anything about Blackstock’s financial involvement. Blackstock certainly won’t be talking, and Cobb claims that McLemore knew "little to none" about Blackstock’s financial involvement, and did not know about the $10,000 Blackstock paid Cobb.

The problem is, though, that Kansas most likely has a responsibility under their compliance program to know who McLemore is leaving tickets for. Infante explains:

But if the NCAA does overcome those obstacles, KU will have additional questions to answer. Blackstock’s appearance on McLemore’s pass list for multiple games may lead to the NCAA to conclude that Kansas should have known he was in some way connected to McLemore. Kansas may then have to detail what monitoring they did of the individuals that basketball players added to the pass list, and why the school did not know about Blackstock’s connections to agents. Failing to answer those questions would, if the case gets that far, raise Kansas’ institutional culpability quite a bit.

It is apparently true, however, that McLemore’s mother was aware of the business nature of the trips to LA, if Cobb is to be believed in that regard. According to him, it was the reason that Boyd (McLemore’s cousin) was taken along. This generates NCAA issues all by itself, under the "Cam Newton rule" noted by Infante above. The fact that Sonya Reid, McLemore’s mother, sat with Blackstock during the games he attended is evidence she was aware of his involvement, though not necessarily of the money given to Cobb.

In some ways, this looks similar to what happened to Marcus Camby back during Calipari’s tenure, except that it’s just money paid to a representative of McLemore’s interests rather than bling and hookers directly to the player. This points up why poverty is such a tremendous red flag when signing a highly-ranked player.

Which makes me wonder: Will Bill Self now be considered in the same boat as Calipari if he gets wins vacated?

Additional reading:

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