I came to this story late after spending a bit of the afternoon at WDRB Day at the Fair, and it was good seeing those of you that I saw. These are my thoughts on the report by SI's Pete Thamel.
University of Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel is back in the news, a couple of weeks after telling CBS' Jeff Goodman in a Boston eatery that he has been cleared academically by the NCAA. This time, the story isn't so clear. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated reports that the eligibility inquiry over Noel is "widening."
Citing unnamed NCAA sources, Thamel reports that NCAA enforcement officials traveled for a second time to Noel's New Hampshire prep school for a three-hour meeting earlier this month that apparently was aimed at getting more information about people around Noel and how he paid for his unofficial visits -- two of which were to the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky.
Then Thamel wrote this: "What made the NCAA's visit to Tilton intriguing is that a senior Kentucky official, UK chief compliance officer Sandy Bell, accompanied (NCAA enforcement officials) for the meeting. Bell didn't ask many questions, according to the source, but did take notes and spoke up occasionally."
A compliance director sitting in on such a meeting isn't the most common thing, but it does happen from time to time, enough that it shouldn't be termed unusual.
Thamel reports that all of that, "gives the appearance that this case has gone beyond the routine checking of top prospects, according to one former NCAA investigator."
That last conclusion, of course, is speculation. We don't know.
My thoughts on this latest flap:
-- I still haven't seen anything that would cause a significant threat to Noel's eligibility. There may be issues there that require repayment. There might be things that could cause him to sit a few games. But so far we've seen a lot of insinuation without much actual allegation. Nothing even close to the Enes Kanter story, when it was known that a player had received a great deal of money from a pro basketball club. This is nothing like that.
-- Bell's presence was a wise investment of time on UK's part. Too often, these interviews happen and there's no chance for school officials to clarify what was said by interviewees. Often, the only record is a transcript that the NCAA compiles. What Bell did should be standard operating procedure for compliance officials in that situation.
-- If there's anything that would raise a red flag, it's information that the NCAA is boring in on Chris Driscoll, a former Providence assistant and current latcher-on, or Erroll Randolph, who has some established ties to Noel's family, and also to a sports agency. But here's an important point: while both of these guys could conceivably have been doing things for or with Noel they shouldn't have, neither was remotely acting in UK's interests. And there's not even an allegation at this point that they did anything wrong.
--It's worth reiterating that. This isn't an investigation into UK's recruitment of Noel. It's a look at his high school associates, none of whom has connections with John Calipari or UK.
-- From the start of Noel's recruitment, and that of Shabazz Muhammad, the prevailing sentiment is that "neither one may play." I don't know. I just still haven't seen anything specific that would keep Noel off a college basketball court. The story today moves the ball a little farther up the court, but in no definite direction.