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Kentucky Basketball: Details Come Out On Calipari's Alleged Pay-For-Play at Memphis, Inspiring Skepticism of Accuser

Now we know who the accuser is, and how the deal allegedly went down. It seems unlikely.

Jamie Squire

The other day, we discussed a report out of Memphis that a relative of former Memphis Tigers player Pierre Henderson-Niles allegedly informed the NCAA about a so-called pay-for-play scheme that John Calipari allegedly engaged in. There's more detail on the story now, and it turns out that the person alleging the NCAA violation is a certain Stephen Saine. reports it thus:

So exactly who is Stephen Saine? Besides being the uncle of former Memphis Tigers player Pierre Henderson-Niles, Saine is also the man who is accusing John Calipari of agreeing to a pay-for-play arrangement to get Henderson-Niles to the University of Memphis.

His story is complex. He went being behind bars to being behind the pulpit. Pastor Saine is what his congregation at Higher Heights Christian Church in North Memphis calls him.

But back in the 90's he was better known as Pink Chevy, because of the car he drove to make his drug deals.

Understandably, our first reaction is skepticism. At first blush, Mr. Saine's past is colorful to say the least, and doesn't exactly inspire instant credibility in those of us who haven't had the pleasure of meeting him. Having said that, I don't discount his statement out of hand, because even the most dubious character, and Mr. Saine certainly fits that description, could still be telling the truth.

His motivation?

So why has Saine decided to share his story now? "Basically I want to get the truth out there. I want to free myself of some things."

In another article, Saine claims:

I share this not to bring dishonor to the University of Memphis or the men's basketball program, but to: 1) do the right thing and 2) help make sure what happened then is no longer prevalent not only at the UofM but in college athletics in general.

Okay, well, unburdening the soul is, at least on the surface, a motive we can understand and appreciate. It does seem passing strange to us that he has waited all this time to locate the NCAA and confess Calipari's sins. Then again, perhaps not:

Saine says he has written an autobiography detailing his rise from a life of crime to religious leader. He is currently shopping publishers for his work.

Ah, at last — a plausible reason. Mr. Saine could be said to desire publicity, and accusing a high-profile coach of breaking the rules will certainly provide him with some. Also, considering how many people already believe that Calipari is a serial NCAA scofflaw, there is little doubt he has plenty of supporters out there, including all of the Duke Blue Devils faithful and most of the Louisville and North Carolina fans.

As to the veracity of his report, we can only make a few observations:

  • His implication that Derek Kellogg, Calipari's assistant at the time, was paying him seems reasonable in the sense that if any head coach were engaging in nefarious behavior, it would be done through an assistant;

  • His background makes his allegation suspicious, as does the concomitant attempt to sell his book;

  • Waiting until the NCAA "statute of limitations" has just barely expired is seems notably convenient. Even if the NCAA decides there is some fire around this smoke, it is doubtful that they could take action against Coach Cal;

  • Apparently, both current Memphis coach Josh Pastner, another Calipari assistant at the time, and Henderson-Niles himself have denied that these payments ever took place. We find this bit not particularly useful, since it would not be unusual for a player not to be aware of such an arrangement (see Newton, Cam) and it is also quite possible that the scheme was never revealed to Pastner.

The biggest reason for skepticism besides the above is that Henderson-Niles was a three-star player out of high school, and a local Memphis product. He wasn't a "must have" recruit for Calipari and Memphis, and didn't start until his senior year after Calipari had gone to Kentucky. So for Calipari to have paid a bench player that probably got offered a scholarship as much out of a duty to the city as anything else seems unlikely to us.

Mr. SEC adds these observations:

You can also be certain that the NCAA will — at some level — investigate this issue. We’re not big on conspiracy theories around here, but there’s no doubt the NCAA has for years viewed Calipari as its great white whale. They keep hitting his ex-programs, but they can’t pin a thing on him.

Perhaps. However, over the past few years, it's become clear to me that it isn't the NCAA who considers Calipari their Moby Dick, but rather a few crusading sports reporters. It is likely to be they that follow up on this story in hopes of sinking a harpoon into Calipari.

Realistically, it's hard to see what the NCAA has to follow up on here five years removed from the alleged events. It's unlikely they'd want to try to explain how it's okay to ignore clear and convincing evidence that Duke's Lance Thomas received extra benefits from a jeweler in the form of a $67,800 loan, or the Myron Pigge scandal in which multiple NCAA violations were testified to in open court while the NCAA specifically cited the statute of limitations as justification for not pursuing them, and investigate Calipari five years after the events allegedly occurred. There's also the ongoing UNC academic scandal, which makes it even tougher to figure.

We see you out there with your hand raised, dear reader, desperately trying to remind us that the NCAA hates Kentucky and loves Duke and that the NCAA told Miami it could "look back" beyond the statute of limitations. Yes, but permit us to remind you that the reason they could do that is a pattern of "wilful violations," and they simply don't have such a pattern in Calipari's case.

There will, however, be more examination of this claim. For one, Derek Kellogg is explicitly accused of being the bag man. Presumably, he'll deny it, and if so, that will most likely be the end of the matter unless a witness comes forth who will validate the claims against Kellogg and/or Calipari, or Saine can produce a canceled check or other documentary evidence, one that would presumably have "pay-for-play money" on the "For:" line.

Absent that, this is likely to be fodder for a few articles and little more. Kentucky fans may be inspired to descend into paranoia, but we think it's best just to sit back and let events unfold.