NASHVILLE, Tenn. — SEC Basketball Media Day, like every conference media day this year, will likely be dominated by questions about the pay-for-play scandal and bombshell FBI investigation that has rocked college basketball just weeks before the 2017-18 season tips off.
SEC Country is on site and will be updating this page throughout the day Wednesday as each of the league’s 14 coaches take their turn in front of the microphone and inevitably address the elephant in the room:
John Calipari, Kentucky
Calipari said last week at his team’s media day that UK has not been contacted as part of the FBI investigation. Wednesday, he answered the question: What can a head coach do to be sure his house is in order?
“Through the hiring process,” Calipari said. “The guys you’re hiring are basketball coaches that are into what we’re doing, into the kids, that also know our culture and how we do things — and it is different — right down [to] managers. You’re responsible for them, too, now. From managers on up, you meet with them, you talk to them about it. I have good people around me and I feel good about how we do what we do.”
And how might this scandal ultimately be good for college basketball?
“Well, behaviors are going to change now. Like, you’re not going to go do something [wrong] because, ‘Am I going to jail?’ Behaviors will change,” said Calipari, who later pretended to pat down a reporter for a wire. “The question is going forward: Are we going to make this better for these kids? That’s the question that’s out there.”
Then Calipari went on a long rant about one-and-done and finding ways to take care of players and concluded that even if the NBA’s rules change to either let guys go pro straight out of high school or go to college for two years, “You’re going to help Kentucky.”
Frank Martin, South Carolina
Former Gamecocks assistant Lamont Evans, who left last year to coach at Oklahoma State, was one of the four coaches arrested in the FBI’s first wave three weeks ago. Asked for the latest in terms of communication with the FBI, Martin was displeased.
“Who are you? From?” he asked SEC Country’s reporter. “I don’t know if you followed what I said before: We are not under investigation, so since we’re not under investigation, we have no conversations with the FBI. I don’t want to be lumped into something that we have nothing to do with. Lamont worked for me. Lamont is under investigation. Lamont has not worked for me for over a year. We are not under investigation. So I don’t — I did all this; I’m not going to keep talking about the FBI when we have nothing to do with that.”
Bruce Pearl, Auburn
The Tigers are the only SEC program so far to have a current — now suspended — assistant coach implicated. Chuck Person was arrested and is facing six federal charges, including bribery.
“Under normal circumstances, if we weren’t a part of this ongoing investigation, you’d get a lot of comments from me about it,” Pearl said Wednesday. “But I think because we’ve got something that’s ongoing right now, I just can’t offer my thoughts or opinions, and I hope you understand that.”
He was then asked what he’s going to do about unnamed Auburn players alluded to in the FBI’s initial documents that implicated Person — specifically about whether anyone’s eligibility is a concern.
“As of yesterday in practice, every player that we have on the roster was in practice. The only player that wasn’t able to go is Austin Wiley because he’s been injured, and we expect him to be back in about 10 days to two weeks. So as of right now, everybody is out there,” Pearl said. But if there was a game tomorrow, would all players be available? “We’re not playing a game tomorrow. When I left campus today, they were all able to be in practice. That’s where we are right now.”
Pearl also noted that Auburn, which had sold out season tickets in anticipation of a team good enough to reach the NCAA Tournament, offered refunds to fans after the scandal broke.
“Our fans have been great,” he said. “We lost less than a couple hundred seats, and we’ve sold them again since.”
Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M
“We haven’t been contacted at all,” Kennedy said. His reaction to the scandal: “I was surprised, one, that the FBI was involved. And I was surprised that programs were involved where the head coach didn’t know anything about it, because I feel like I micromanage so much in my program that I know everything that’s going on, sometimes to a negative. I would hate to think that something is going on that I wasn’t aware of, of that stature.”
How can the head coach be sure his house is in order beneath him?
“I don’t know how you can’t know, so all it did was alarm me to make sure I know everything that’s going on recruiting-wise and did we have relationships with those guys [caught up in the FBI investigation], and fortunately we didn’t. I knew that, I believed that on the front end, and I know that now even more so.”
Mark Fox, Georgia
“I’ve had no contact with the FBI,” Fox said. “I do not believe that the university has been contacted. If they have been, I think I probably would’ve heard about it. My reaction is I think it’s shocking to people because if you don’t live in this world, you don’t have any sense that there might be some shady things going on. I think if we want to be honest about it, a lot of coaches probably felt like there may be some things that were occurring. Now some of that’s been exposed. What they prove to be true remains to be seen, but it’s a dark cloud for the game and hopefully we can use it to make it better.”
Fox was then asked if it’s his belief that cheating the likes of which the FBI uncovered is, in a way, business as usual in college basketball.
“If I play cards with my kids, I’m going to do everything I gotta do to win. So win competition is involved, you get people out of bounds. That’s why you have referees, you know? When people’s greed outweighs their ethical values, you get some significant problems. And it’s not probably good to cheat my kids in cards, but when you have jobs like we have, we owe it to the game, we owe it to our schools, to the league, to college basketball to do it right. Because we’re the caretakers right now, it is a great game, and we have to leave it in a better place when our time is done.”
Avery Johnson, Alabama
Johnson was annoyed by a question about how much communication he’s had, if any, with the FBI regarding its investigation. “We’ve already released a statement about that and I’m just here to talk about our team. In the future, if there’s something else that we need to say about it, we’ll say it at the appropriate time.” Later, Johnson avoided a question about whether he worries the investigation will hurt recruiting by simply shaking his head and saying nothing.
Three weeks ago, Alabama announced the abrupt resignation of its associate athletic director for men’s basketball, with AD Greg Byrne saying in a statement:
“Following yesterday’s reports from New York regarding a Federal investigation of intercollegiate athletics, The University of Alabama Department of Athletics immediately initiated an internal review of our men’s basketball operations. As a result, we have accepted the resignation effective today of Kobie Baker, a men’s basketball administrator. Our review has not identified any NCAA or SEC rules violations nor the involvement of any other coach or staff member. We have notified both of the governing bodies of the actions we have taken. As always, we will continue to be proactive in our compliance efforts.”
Avery Johnson on his second question about the FBI investigation: pic.twitter.com/kEKCYpXfD5
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_SEC) October 18, 2017
Rick Barnes, Tennessee
“No one has contacted us,” Barnes said. “Obviously there were some tough days, dark days for college basketball, but the fact is the game is bigger and it will be better. The game is bigger than all of us. You hate to see it, you really do. But the fact is it’s been going on for probably a hundred years, things that weren’t supposed to be going on, and you hope this is going to put the brakes on it for a little bit and make people take more notice and say, ‘How can we make the game better?’ But one thing that will happen is the game will come out better and it’ll survive any of the things that go on that shouldn’t go on. The fact is, it happened and we have to deal with it right now, but we’ll start playing games and hopefully get through all this.
“When you go back and look at other things that have happen through the course of basketball — and there have been other things — every time something happens, it makes everyone stop and take a look at what they’re doing and how they’re doing it … say, ‘How can we prevent this?’ And I do think it will make the game better. Even though it put a black eye on the game of basketball … I don’t think everybody can be put into that category and think that there’s something bad about college basketball across the board, because I don’t believe that.”
How can the guy in charge keep his house in order within a program? “I always try to hire people that I know and respect and know how they’re going to do things. If I had a model for it, I would say … be active in all hires and say, ‘I want to know who he’s hiring.’ Because of one thing: I don’t think anybody in the coaching business is surprised by what came out. I think they were surprised it was the FBI that did it. That was the big surprise. But I think it’s going to take [athletic directors], when they hire people, find out everything they can. If I was a sitting AD, one of my first questions would be, ‘Who’s going to be on your staff and how well do you know them?’ I thank the good Lord that I’ve got a group of guys I trust with my life.”
Will Wade, LSU
“We haven’t been contacted,” Wade said, “and my initial reaction was with the coaches and the people who were involved — there are families involved. None of them knew they were breaking a federal law. Like, it’s one thing to think you’re … but none of them knew they were doing something that was against a federal law. I don’t think any of them would’ve [done it]. I mean, it’s not worth it. So my first thought was with them and my second thought was, ‘How can we flip this into a positive and change the model and move forward as college basketball and use this as a way to get going?’ ”
Ben Howland, Mississippi State
“We have not” been contacted, Howland said, “and then beyond that, I have no further comment on anything to do with the ongoing FBI investigation of all the different programs that is occurring right now. I have no other information, but we have not been contacted — to my knowledge.”
Did he have a general reaction to the scandal? “Again, because of the ongoing investigation by the FBI, I have no comment [on] anything to do with what’s going on.”
Mike White, Florida
Have the Gators been contacted? “No. No,” White said. On the scandal: “My reaction is it’s sad. You hate hearing about those type things and reading about those things. You’ve got guys going to jail. You’ve got programs affected, student-athletes affected, fan bases, administrations. It’s stuff you don’t want to see.”
Having been around the game a long time, did any of the news really surprise him? “Uh,” White said, “not really, no. You hear stuff all the time. You guys hear stuff, we hear stuff — in any industry. There’s stuff you hear in college basketball. You don’t know what’s true and what’s not. We just try to do our best to focus on our own program.”
Mike Anderson, Arkansas
“Have not. Have not.” — Anderson on whether he or the program have been contacted by the FBI. And his reaction to the scandal? “Just kind of stunned, like everybody else, and found out like you guys found out,” he said. “Just kind of taken aback. When you talk about the FBI, the actual [undercover] footage and things of that nature, it’s very unfortunate, because this is a game that we’re the guardians of, when you talk about the coaches. And for something like that to come down the pike, it just kind of hits at the core.
“But at the same time, obviously it’s something that’s been exposed and maybe a lot of good will come out of it. But I don’t think it should cast a blanket or a cover over the whole realm of college basketball. You’ve got some great coaches, great universities, you got some great programs that are doing the right things, so hopefully a lot of good comes out of it.”
Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss
“Personally, I have not” been contacted by the FBI, Kennedy said. “No, we [as a program] have not.” His reaction to the scandal: “I was in a recruiting period … on a flight, and I land and my phone is blowing up and I’m trying to figure out what’s going on. Any time you see that the FBI is involved in something, it gets your attention, and then when the information started to come out, I think everybody took a step back and said, ‘OK, wow, this is a game changer.’ I think we’re all anxious to see what happens next.” So what was the most interesting text he got when the scandal broke? Kennedy laughed. “I’m going to need my attorney here to share that with you.”
Bryce Drew, Vanderbilt
The Commodores have not been contacted by the FBI, Drew said. On the scandal: “It’s definitely unfortunate. [Even] if I was not in the profession … I love college basketball. I love watching it. And so it’s definitely sad when you see some of the publicity that college basketball is getting. But you know, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll come back and be an even stronger product as we get through this.” On the notion that everyone cheats: “That’s not accurate,” Drew said. “I’ve been around college basketball my whole life, and I know that’s not accurate.”
Cuonzo Martin, Missouri
“No, no, not at all,” Martin said when asked if the Tigers have been contacted by the FBI. “I’m not really worried about that, because that’s not my world.” He said it was unfortunate to see four assistant coaches — from Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Southern California — already get arrested, because it affects their livelihood and families. “I knew every one of those guys and I thought they did a tremendous job with their work ethic when I saw them. It’s unfortunate for them and their families and those programs,” Martin said. “It’s tough, because nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes in some form or fashion. Yes, it’s really hard [but] I’m not one to judge anybody’s program, because we have to work to be the best we can be, so I don’t consume myself with somebody else’s doing.”
Martin added that while he doesn’t know how to fix what ails college hoops, he hopes part of the solution is not to get rid of summer AAU basketball because it would take away opportunities for kids to be seen and recruited. “Hopefully we can get this thing corrected so we all can move forward. Hopefully it’s just a bump in the road. But I don’t worry about it — not at all.”