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Just How Dirty Is College Basketball Recruiting?

"Imagine every bad thing you hear about college basketball recruiting. Multiply by it 10. That's 20% of how dirty it is."

- Jonathan Tjarks

The above quote is a tweet from one of my favorite NBA writers, Jonathan Tjarks of RealGM and SBNation. It serves as an appropriate introduction to this post.

My intention this summer was to write-up a "State of Recruiting" series, covering various topics about what makes recruiting so fascinating (to me, anyway). It turns out I didn't have nearly as much free time, or as many summer weeks, as I had originally anticipated.

Still, one of the posts I had intended to do was "just how dirty is college basketball recruiting?" And given two articles that recently cropped up (see after the jump), I thought it'd be an unpleasant diversion from the Blue-White Scrimmage to bring up that discussion. You can thank me with coal in my stocking later.

First, let's rewind back to the summer and a choice quote from Dan Wolken. who used to cover the Memphis Tigers for the Commercial-Appeal and now writes for The Daily. Wolken gave a no-holds barred interview with The Big Lead, and, well, one particular quote was particularly damning.

There's one particular program right now - an elite program that most fans wouldn't ever guess - that everyone in basketball knows is straight-up paying guys. Will they get caught? I don't know, but the more this stuff gets exposed, the more we can shatter these ridiculous media-fueled notions about who's dirty and who isn't.

Without overusing the word particular, let's not get into particulars into which program it is. Don't worry, it can't be Kentucky. After all, the common "non-BBN" fan automatically puts John Calipari into his "top 5" dirty coaches list as instinctive reflex.

More important is the universal belief that illicit practices run rampant in college basketball recruiting. It's commonplace. It's expected. It just is.

At least, that was the premise of an excellent Dave Telep column, posted earlier this week as part of ESPN's "State of the Game" series (they totally stole my non-unique idea!). The column is In$ider only, but the basic premise is that cheating runs rampant at the "elite recruit" level, and just about everyone involved with college basketball is complicit in the process.

Telep classifies elite recruits into three categories below. Naturally it's 2 and 3 that are the bad apples, and he insinuates that too many of them exist in college basketball today.

These elite-level recruits can be classified into three types of players:

1. A clean recruit: With these kids, the playing field is level. Outside of the traditional recruiting pitch and salesmanship of the program, everyone has the same chance to land him.

2. Agent/runner-influenced: In this type of recruitment, at some point it will become clear that someone behind the scenes is financially taking care of the player and his family. Although programs may not need to provide any of their money to sign him, they must decide whether pursuing him is worth the cost of NCAA sanctions should the agent/runner involvement ever come to light.

3. Recruits who seek an inducement: These are basically pay-for-play performers.

As you might have guessed, it's types 2 and 3 that are concerning for the current health of college basketball, and they've changed the nature of high school player evaluation. In addition to scouting the player on the court, teams must evaluate the people on his periphery. They need to know who's in the kid's ear. If there seems to be any agent influence or a handler or family member looking for handouts, odds are you'll have to get your hands dirty to earn his commitment.

Telep then goes on to outline how college programs deal with players from buckets 2 and 3, discussing assistant coach slush funds, the "art" of the unofficial visit, and Jim Calhoun's favorite phrase: plausible deniability. It's a great read, but I'll leave you with this Telep quote:

Cheating isn't rocket science, especially when straight cash is involved.

Randy Moss would be so proud.

Then this morning, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports published an expose that basically took Telep's outline verbatim and applied it to Michael Beasley, the former Kansas St. Wildcats star. Beasley has run into legal problems with Curtis Malone (his former runner) and Joel Bell (his former agent). In a lawsuit/countersuit mess, the quarreling parties aired a boatload of dirty laundry and provided a "fascinating window into the underbelly of basketball". Per Wetzel, here's a brief summation of the NCAA illegality involved.

Malone offered Beasley a spot with his D.C. Assault AAU program, waving all fees and, the suit alleges, offering to pick up any travel costs for out-of-town tournaments for his mother.

Beasley and Malone became so close that at age 14, Beasley moved into Malone’s home, which he shares with his wife and four children, including stepson Nolan Smith, who just finished his basketball career at Duke.

Beasley’s mother acknowledges in the suit that Malone assumed "the status of a father figure with Beasley and a brother to her." During this time she met Bell, who initially represented her on a suspended license legal case and began plying her with money, the suit alleges.

Beasley was a handful to mentor. He attended six high schools in five states and had academic, maturity and behavior issues. He eventually made it through, however, and signed with Kansas State. One of the Wildcats assistant coaches then was Dalonte Hill, who, like Beasley, had once played for Malone and also counted him as a father figure.

The choice of Kansas State was perfect for Beasley. The small-town environment of Manhattan, Kan., kept many temptations away. Beasley’s mother and her other children also moved there. Her moving costs and rent were paid for, the suit reads, by an unnamed financial planner – and later Bell.

Wetzel's position is clear. Blame falls on both sides of the coin, and in this scenario, both sides reaped the rewards. Meanwhile, the Kansas St. basketball program and the NCAA profited off Beasley's fine play with a fine season and solid TV ratings. Win-win-win-win, right?

If Malone profited off his relationship with Beasley, as the suit claims, then it’s fair to say Beasley also profited off his relationship with Malone.


It’s a messy system and everyone involved is a product of it. It isn’t set up with the interest of top prospects. It’s designed to protect the so-called purity of college basketball, because pretending this isn’t happening is great for TV ratings.

Identifying the abscesses is much easier then recommending a proper solution. For each idea that sounds good, there's plenty of holes to poke. Here's a Gary Parrish tweet in response to the Wetzel article:

Just got a text from a college coach about the Mike Beasley story. Here's what it said: "We have kids going to college who don't want to go to college. If the NBA doesn't want them, then the D League should be set up for them. But the sad fact is that these kids are getting paid more money to go to college for a year than to play in the D League."

What's the right solution? Maybe there isn't one. But something, anything needs to be done. Right?