SEC Tip-off, the basketball media days came and went quietly in Mountain Brook this week. There were moments of celebration about what should be, on the court, a vintage year appropriate of the setting at the Grand Bohemian Hotel.
There was still an air of uncertainty at most of the interviews as the federal corruption trials in New York — the first of which, with two shoe company executives and an agent runner facing wire fraud and other charges, has gone to the jury. Some coaches were asked about it. Avery Johnson, who said earlier in the week that Alabama was confident the Collin Sexton situation was closed by last year’s investigation and one-game suspension, wasn’t asked about the situation at all.
LSU coach Will Wade, whose voice was reportedly on tape talking with agent runner Christian Dawkins as part of the evidence in the trial, was asked, responding with an almost-but-not-quite rebuttal saying he had “never, ever done business with Dawkins” which isn’t exactly saying that discussions didn’t take place.
Kentucky coach John Calipari, in sort of an elder statesman role, said UK “pulled out” of situations that he thought were shady. Tennessee’s Rick Barnes, another longtime veteran, said cheating “had always gone on” and that it would continue, but that it was not a pandemic that threatened the sport.
The coaches were gone by Wednesday afternoon. In the broader basketball world, the news bombs kept exploding on Thursday.
On the trial front, there was compelling evidence that Zion Williamson, last year’s most well-known recruit, was being shopped around by his stepfather in a way the NCAA supposedly closed with the Cecil Newton rule.
The shoppers allegedly weren’t impoverished programs looking to make one big splash. An offer involving jobs, cash and houses was reportedly pitched to a receptive Kansas assistant, adding to the impression that the Jayhawks were bending the rules on every available five-star recruit. Williamson finally wound up at Duke. Did the stepfather simply decide that he’d stop taking offers before that? More importantly, is the NCAA going to pursue some programs and let Kansas and Duke walk away unscathed? Or will it drop the whole mess?
There was more on Thursday, from a slightly different direction. The NBA unveiled a new compensation plan for certain G League (developmental) players. As first reported by ESPN, elite prospects who are at least 18 years old but who are ineligible for the NBA draft will be eligible to sign “select contracts” with G League teams. These contracts, which will become available next summer, will pay the player $125,000 for the five-month G League season. After the season concludes, the player will then become eligible for the NBA and G League drafts.
Who qualifies as “elite” has not been answered? Would it affect any of Alabama’s three commitments, all Top 150 players in the national recruiting rankings? (That seems possible, at least.) Do coaches have to wait until next summer to find out, losing recruits with little or no option of replacing them?
In many cases, college will still be a better choice than the bus-and-burger life of the G League. On the other hand, $25,000 a month for five months is good money. The NBA doesn’t seem likely to do away with “one-and-done” until 2022, but for some one-and-done talents, this could be a side door.
The sport of college basketball goes on, and the upcoming season should be an exciting one at Alabama and elsewhere. But what will it look like in five years? The answer is probably “dramatically different.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.