Will the Ben McLemore story become a real story?
By now, you likely have read the USA Today report detailing alleged agent payoffs in connection to former Kansas star Ben McLemore, a likely top-five pick in next month’s NBA draft. I first read it on Saturday when it dropped, thought about it some more yesterday, considered it more this morning before trying to finally put some words down on electronic paper, and I can’t shake my initial opinion of it, which was basically a shrug.
The headline certainly is enticing enough, with a future high lottery pick and a blueblood program and “runners” for agents prominently involved. But the allegations — that McLemore’s AAU coach took a couple of $5,000 payments and some all-expense paid trips from an apparent runner who wanted the coach’s help in trying to steer McLemore toward particular agents — has nothing to do with Kansas, and very well has nothing directly to do with McLemore, either.
There is no evidence at this point that anything connected to this issue has anything to do with the Jayhawks’ program. It has nothing to do with how Kansas landed McLemore, and to this point, it has very little to do with McLemore, specifically. A cousin of McLemore’s said the apparent runner, er, “advisor” Rodney Blackstock, had developed a relationship with McLemore’s family and had introduced them to several Los Angeles-based agents in January and February, while McLemore was busy competing in Big 12 play. The article also notes that Blackstock was a guest at multiple Kansas games on comp tickets provided by McLemore (not necessarily an indictment of anything in a vacuum), and that the AAU coach, Darius Cobb, had paid some bills for McLemore’s family and bought him some clothes.
Right now, as currently established, it’s the kind of stuff that often happens with college players (especially from poor backgrounds), exacerbated significantly by McLemore’s pending status as a top draft pick. This particular instance became public because one of the facilitators decided to squeal to the media. And Cobb likely decided to squeal because he wasn’t going to be able to help steer McLemore to Blackstock and/or other agents for whom Blackstock was acting as a liaison, although the purpose of blabbing remains curious given this quote he provided to USA Today.
“I don’t want to hurt the family, I want to protect the family,” Cobb says. “If there had to be a bad guy, if there had to be a fall guy, let it be me, as opposed to ruining a great kid who has busted his butt to get where he is. Let me be the crooked AAU coach. I was willing to take the brunt of it for the sake of this kid. I wanted to keep him pure.”
Huh? If you wanted to protect the family, then don’t say anything. And that likely will be the advice given to Cobb when the NCAA gets around to asking about this, as it’s already been determined based on the Lance Thomas/Duke case that the NCAA can’t really accomplish anything if people don’t speak with them. Whether Cobb complies with that tack after his curious media participation will likely determine whether Kansas ultimately gets dinged in any way.
At worst, the Jayhawks will ultimately have to vacate a Sweet 16 appearance and there may be some impact on Bill Self’s overall record if it’s determined that McLemore’s eligibility was jeopardized by these peripherals. That seems silly, since it doesn’t appear that Self or the program had anything to do with this. But if Cobb cooperates with the NCAA or more comes out that connects McLemore’s family directly to financial consideration tied to his basketball potential, it could be the end result, much like when Marcus Camby receiving gifts directly from an agent while he was at UMass forced the Minutemen to vacate their 1996 Final Four.
Anyway, it will be interesting to see where this goes. Cobb obviously had some reason to let this get public, the NCAA is going to want to check into this as best it can, and McLemore is still going to be worth a lot of money in a couple of months. It’s not really a story at this point to the extent anyone should really care about it, but it’s also not likely to go away without any further twists and turns.