Ben McLemore Wants to Talk About Third Party Allegations: Where Does This Go Next?Posted by Chris Johnson on May 20th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Last time Ben McLemore’s name whirled its way into the national sports consciousness, it was for entirely undesirable reasons. We weren’t talking about McLemore’s immense redshirt freshman season, or his sweet shooting stroke and rising NBA draft stock. We were talking about the NCAA, and the possibility of McLemore leaving Kansas in a scurrilous amateurism-violating lurch after USA Today’s Eric Prisbell brought to light comments from the former Kansas star’s AAU coach detailing his alleged acceptance of money and travel benefits from a purported agent. A web of important questions were raised: did McLemore take impermissible benefits? Did he have even the slightest inkling his AAU coach, Darius Cobb, was receiving money and free trips to Los Angeles behind his back? And if he did, what were the punitive repercussions for Kansas’s proud basketball program? Was the NCAA’s biteless enforcement mechanism unequipped to tackle a situation like this? Would McLemore eventually give his side of the story? Could he even stomach the idea his former AAU coach and friend would take a potentially damning impermissible benefits case to the most widely-circulated newspaper in the country?
Some of those questions were answered last Thursday at the NBA Draft combine in Chicago, where Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis got McLemore on the record. McLemore didn’t mince words – the allegations cited in Prisbell’s report are, true or not, completely over his head. “I didn’t see no money going around. My mom hasn’t seen no money going around. We don’t know nothing about it,” McLemore told Davis. “So it was kind of new to me.”
That sort of response leaves a host of questions unanswered. McLemore doesn’t know what his AAU coach may or may not have been doing behind the scenes to facilitate a more lucrative financial arrangement for his NBA draft process. Of course he doesn’t. And even if he did, is there a legal body with the retroactive purview and/or subpoena power to make him clear the air? The NCAA doesn’t have that authority built into its opaque (but only superficially powerful) enforcement rulebook. McLemore stopped being a student athlete the second he made he declared his intentions to enter the NBA draft. The only obligation he has to Mark Emmert and co. is to keep quiet, happily accept his first NBA contract and rejoice in the fact he never, ever has to deal with Emmert or academic ineligibility or amateurism again. No matter the level of suspicion, no matter how strong the mounting wall of evidence piling against him, McLemore doesn’t have to do a darn thing.
But if McLemore does want to speak up – which is exactly what his comments in Davis’ article appear to indicate – the NCAA will be more than happy to listen. McLemore seems so genuinely indebted to the Jayhawks and everything they helped him achieve during his two years at the school, that his concerns over any residual punishments Blackstock’s illicit third-party dealings may or may not lead to are pushing him towards having a completely voluntary discussion with enforcement staffers and dispensing everything does and doesn’t know about his questionable past.
“I would tell them the truth and tell them what I know, and just cooperate with them,” McLemore said at the NBA’s predraft combine. “Hopefully they’ll cooperate with me and hear my side.”
Honesty and candor and retro-legacy cleansing are all fresh concepts. McLemore wants to ensure neither his nor the 2012-13 Jayhawks’ seasons are erased or asterisked or demerited in any historically damning way. In his one season of eligibility, McLemore was one of college baketball’s most recognizable stars, and we can only assume that undying love ran tenfold in Lawrence, Kansas, where he led the Jayhawks to yet another Big 12 championship and served as the boundlessly talented youthful figurehead of another predictably dominant Bill Self season. Being a top-five pick and all is great. It’s the next stage of McLemore’s natural basketball progression, and more importantly, a means of immediately rehabilitating his family’s dire financial situation.
The cynical viewpoint – that McLemore can’t wait to finally leave behind this dumb one-and-done charade (or, thanks to academic suspension, two-and-one in McLemore’s case) – assumes McLemore couldn’t care less about his past, about the program that gave him a home and helped vault him to national stardom and guaranteed NBA millions. Not only does McLemore disagree, thank you very much – “I hope it don’t affect Kansas because there’s so much tradition there. I don’t want to be one of those guys that can’t be allowed to come back,” he told Davis – he’s willing to reengage with the unnecessary consternation of invasive NCAA questioning and the startling perceived dishonesty of his former AAU coach, just to make sure everyone, Rockchalk Jayhawkers and NBA GMs and NCAA staffers alike, knows what’s real.
NCAA investigations into various college basketball-related injustices are never fun to talk or write about, because they typically follow a numbingly predictable pattern, and almost always end with at least a few national columnists penning a grand referendum on the evils of the amateurism and college sports’ impending doom and misaligned incentives and yuck. Yeah, I think we’re just about done here…that is, until McLemore actually does talk. Then I’ll probably find myself in the exact same place, writing about a totally nondescript meeting with an anonymous NCAA investigator, banging my head against a wall and pining for Midnight Madness. Let’s give it, say, three months. I’ll be back: same topic, same bitter reluctance, same underlying desire to just make it all go away.