Tom Kelsey is a familiar name to many Alabama basketball fans. He served as an assistant to former UA head coach Mark Gottfried for three years.
He went on to be an NAIA head coach at Belhaven and to serve as the director of basketball operations for Johnny Jones at LSU. He now works as a basketball ambassador for Coachtube, which makes specialized coaching videos for, among others, NBA China and NBA Asia. He was also an honest and friendly person away from the court.
Kelsey has no axes to grind, just a perspective to share that can help with understanding exactly how college basketball recruiting works. Big-name coaches — Rick Pitino, Sean Miller — are in screaming headlines.
This isn’t about a particular school. This is a national story, and this is a primer to help people understand how the process has evolved into one that seems to have trampled the old rules to extinction.
If you think all of college basketball is a cesspool, or you think it’s a good barrel with a few bad apples, or you think that your school, wherever it may be, has been sprinkled with magic fairy dust that allows it to hover above the muck, that’s fine. This isn’t about “who,” just “how,” from someone who has insight.
It all promoted Kelsey to write about “the foundation of a scandal” in his LinkedIn page. He kindly gave me permission to use excerpts from what he had written. From this point, most of the words are from Kelsey’s essay.
“Anyone who has ever been involved in the game on the collegiate level knows helping young men with their needs while enrolled is something that needs to be fixed,” Kelsey writes.
“But this is not (about) the needs of the student-athlete. Whether they get an additional $500, $1,000, $2,000 a month is not what we are talking about. To say, “Pay them what they are worth” is not the answer to the problem.
“Why? In men’s college basketball money changes hands before a young man even gets to campus. And it changes hands often without the student-athlete being involved…
“Here is how it works. (Coaches) identify the talent they want for their program. Then they figure out who is involved with the young man and who will be helping to decide on choosing a school (family members, coaches, friends). Then they assess early if the decision will be based on money.”
That’s what changes everything, Kelsey says.
“At a big-time program, you better know those three things. Who can help your program, who is helping the young man make his decision, will they expect or are they looking for money. Simple 1, 2, 3.
“Once they have identified their prospects and found out who is helping with the decision you probably wonder where the money comes from…The money comes from one of three entities: a shoe company, an agent or a booster. Depends on how the program operates. In today’s world, programs will use all three entities.
“Before or after the young man commits to a school, the money goes to a family member, coach or “advisor.” Very seldom does the young man know the amount of money that is changing hands. All the prospect knows is they now have schools on their list where they had no intention of going.”
Kelsey dismissed the idea that coaches involved in such recruitments “don’t know.” He says there are certainly good coaches, but there are some coaches that are “involved in this process. Heavily involved. Coaches would like for you to believe they have no idea how this works. They know exactly how it works.”
“I’m afraid those type of coaches will always be around,” the essay continues. “But, don’t confuse paying student-athletes (as) the issue here. Nope, it is grown men acting as if rules don’t apply to them.
“I love the coaching profession. (I) enjoy working with some of the top basketball instructors who love the game.
“There are many good coaches out there who want to do things the right way — but this ordeal will overshadow them.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.