There may not be a more valuable player to his team in the Big 12 than Myck Kabongo. He’s not Texas’ leading returning scorer — that’s Sheldon McClellan — nor did he play flawlessly a year ago as a freshman. Regardless, he played a major role in helping the Longhorns sneak into the NCAA Tournament with his improved point guard play and defense during the final month of last season, and the Longhorns will likely live and die with their stud NBA prospect in 2012-13.
That is, if he’s even on the team. A school spokesman told the Associated Press yesterday that the NCAA has questioned Kabongo about his relationship with agent Rich Paul, who represents LeBron James (as well as former Texas players Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph). The investigation centers around two aspects: 1) Paul’s communication with NBA teams before Kabongo decided not to enter the 2012 NBA Draft; and 2) his role in Kabongo’s all-inclusive trip to Cleveland a year ago. These are not the most serious allegations we’ve ever seen. There are no wire transfers involved, no big bags of money or sketchy suitcases transferred from an agent to a player, no criminal action. This isn’t a Reggie Bush situation, a Fab Five situation or any of the other blatant cheating scandals in the grand history of college sports.
That hardly matters, though. If true, Kabongo’s relationship with this agent would compromise his amateur status, and he’d become ineligible to play for Texas. Kabongo would land on his feet and surely jump to the NBA at some point, but his loss would devastate Rick Barnes’ team and set the program back. After relying almost exclusively on J’Covan Brown for offense in 2011-12 and overcoming a lack of depth in the frontcourt, Barnes finally assembled a team with major forces in the paint and several scoring options. This team was built for Kabongo, who won’t need to be a primary scorer. He’s the facilitator of this offense, the guy who can break down defenses and open scoring opportunities for, say, McClellan, or super freshman Cameron Ridley. Without Kabongo, however, this team will have serious issues competing near the top of the Big 12. On a team consisting of almost all freshmen and sophomores, his mere presence keeps the Longhorns running. If he’s ineligible, Barnes might be looking at another difficult season on the NCAA Tournament bubble. That’d be a real shame for a coach who combined such terrific freshman and sophomore classes on this roster.