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Conspiracy theories everywhere about Nerlens Noel

Conspiracy theories. You just knew that the NCAA inquiry into Nerlens Noel's dealings reported yesterday by Pete Thamel of the New York Times was going to generate them. This is Kentucky basketball, and without drama and conspiracy theories, why, we'd just be Michigan State.

First, there is this tweet by Gregg Doyel, via Kentucky Sports Radio:

Okay, assuming that Doyel is talking about Pete Thamel and Kentucky, I do get where Gregg is going with this, and where this is coming from. Check out this paragraph in Thamel's article:

A person who has been briefed on the N.C.A.A.’s inquiry said the topics officials were planning on inquiring about included Noel’s relationship with Chris Driscoll, a former Providence assistant who is close to Noel. Driscoll was barred this year from campus at the Tilton School, the New Hampshire boarding school where Noel has spent the past two years and is completing his final year of high school.

Who is this shadowy "person who has been briefed on the NCAA inquiry," and why, if he has been briefed by the NCAA, is he sharing this information with the New York Times in general and Pete Thamel in particular? Good question, but Thamel provides no answers in his article. Anonymous, well-placed sources are de rigeur for the media, and the NCAA is notorious for leaking like a sieve.

Doyel's tweet motivated's Brian Eldridge to write a more detailed article on this subject. Read the whole thing, but here is a relevant quote that summarizes Eldridge's concern:

The most concerning part of this investigation is that the NCAA seems to be working with a reporter who has no affiliation with the entity.

Does this reporter have an agenda against the Wildcats? I don’t know. Only he knows what’s going on in his head. But what makes it seem like there may be an agenda is that he’s investigated three Kentucky recruits in the last three years and another prospect that had Kentucky as a finalist.

Point taken, I would say. Is Thamel really working as an investigative arm of the NCAA, and does one or both parties have Kentucky as their primary target? I can see how Eldridge and Doyel could rationally connect those dots -- Thamel does some legwork, writes an article, then the NCAA sends investigators and apparently gives him the scoop on the investigation.

In this world of parsing words, it's hard to know which ones are left there by deliberate choice or just in the normal course of communication. For instance, why would Thamel describe his NCAA source as "A person who has been briefed on the N.C.A.A.’s inquiry" rather than the more standard, "A person with knowledge of the inquiry?" Probably just Thamel being unconventional, but maybe there is something else at work. If so, I'm not smart enough to puzzle through it.

The second piece of this conspiracy-palooza concerns this post over at Casual Hoya (again, hat tip to KSR) where our SB Nation brother-in-arms Hire Eshrick digs a bit of grit out of the most recent Thamel piece. In both the original report on Noel done back on March 10th, and in his latest report of the NCAA inquiry, Thamel mentions a guy named Errol Randolph, who is described as an "unassigned teacher" in the first article and "substitute teacher" in the second.

In his second piece, Thamel links Randolph to ASM Sports, an agency run by Andy Miller who represents some high-profile NBA clients because of a link to ASM Sports that was on Randolph's LinkedIn page, but which has since been taken down. Casual Hoya, though, finds more:

Thamel spent so much time researching the backgrounds of the people surrounding Noel in his first piece, how could he overlook Randolph's affiliations? I mean, the national college sports reporter for The New York Times revealed all possible improprieties surrounding Noel's recruitment, how could he forget a mere Internet search of an "unassigned teacher?"

Here's why: Errol Randolph is a Syracuse fan. That person formerly described as merely an "unassigned teacher" and later a possible affiliate of a major sports agency lists Syracuse University, one of the final suitors for Nerlens Noel, as his one and only favorite sports team.

Randolph's Facebook page does indeed identify him as a fan of Syracuse University. As some of you no doubt know, Georgetown and Syracuse are rivals, so CH is trying to gig Thamel here for not dragging Syracuse into the fray. According to the CH narrative, Thamel deliberately avoided mentioning in his articles that Randolph SU supporter that was connected with ASM Sports and was in Noel's ear for a long time, presumably suggesting he don the Orange.

I note here for the record that a link on a social networking site as a "connection" is the new definition of thin. But one would think it would have produced, at minimum, a telephone call to ASM Sports to see if there was any "there" there just as a matter of routine. Whether mentioning someone's fanhood is journalistic malpractice depends, I suppose, on who's ox is being gored.

At least the CH piece has scored some points against their intended target, which is really Syracuse rather than Thamel. The Syracuse blog, Orange Fizz, is apparently unaware of the link between Randolph and Syracuse, and in a lengthy article intended to be critical of Kentucky, posted this:

  • Errol Randolph, Everertt High Substitute Teacher

Just so happens Randolph is one of Noel’s advisors and seems to have a direct connection to a sports agency. Oy.

"Randolph had a link on his LinkedIn page directing people to the Web site of the sports agency run by the prominent basketball agent Andy Miller. The link to Miller’s ASM Sports Web site has since been removed.

Randolph said that he had no formal affiliation with Miller and had never received money from him, and that the Web site ended up on his LinkedIn page because he was browsing it. Randolph said he knew Miller from another relationship more than 10 years ago."

Whoops! Funny how that happens, huh? Can’t believe I had that link up to on my LinkedIn page. Better take it down when the NCAA comes knocking. This much we know, Team Noel is not the sharpest fades in the barber shop.

Apparently, Orange Fizz did not look at Randolph's Facebook page, either. Unintentional hilarity at it's finest. Maybe Team Fizz needs to sharpen something.

Where does all this leave us? With the following questions:

  • Is Pete Thamel in cahoots with the NCAA, and if so, who else in the media is?
  • Are the NCAA and Thamel targeting Kentucky specifically?
  • Who is Errol Randolph? Is he an agency runner, or just a guy trying to get a coaching job somewhere?
  • Is Pete Thamel protecting Syracuse in his reporting of the NCAA inquiry? Why didn't he follow up on the link he himself noted between Randolph and ASM Sports, or check Randolph's Facebook page?
  • Does the fact that Errol Randolph likes JayZ on his Facebook page connect him to Kentucky, Coach Cal, and most importantly, William Wesley (AKA Worldwide Wes?) Could this be the basis of a new, joint Thamel/NCAA investigation, or will the NCAA sub this one out to Gary Parrish or Pat Forde?
  • Could Syracuse and Louisville fans really be any more jealous?
  • Was that really Worldwide Wes behind the grassy knoll?

Well, how exciting would life be without drama like this? And the off season has barely begun. But one thing I would encourage everyone to remember is Hanlon's Razor:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

You might also want to add "or incompetence" to the end of that. Anyway, words to live by.