Tom Keegan: Even No. 1 preseason ranking can't lift cloud hovering over KU basketball

Kansas head coach Bill Self and his staff watch from the bench late during the second half on Saturday, March 25, 2017 at Sprint Center.

News broke Monday that Kansas earned the distinction as preseason No. 1 in the Associated Press men's college basketball poll.

Under normal circumstances, that would trigger peacock struts from Mass Street to campus to the West side of town. It might spark conversations here and there as to whether this adds pressure to the season, but those would be drowned out by festive, relentless boasting.

Instead, the air feels more like that reserved for the days following KU’s final loss in the NCAA tournament. The embarrassing revelations during the federal trial regarding corruption in college basketball have cast a palpable pall over Lawrence.

Kansas wasn’t on trial, but the same can’t be said for its apparel partner, Adidas. The jury on that federal case was in deliberations when news of KU’s No. 1 ranking was released. The aftershock of the former overwhelmed the positive vibes of the latter.

In the court of public opinion, no jury with a formal ruling was needed. Even if it never is proven and even if the NCAA doesn’t come down hard on Kansas for anything, the majority of those paying attention can’t help but reach the conclusion that Adidas and Kansas acted in concert to steer Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa to Allen Fieldhouse. That, of course, leads to reasonable speculation that those are merely the most recent players and far from the only ones to travel that gilded path to Kansas.

And that’s a tough place for the mind to go for a sports fan, by definition a greedy sort. It’s not enough to have a team that goes at least as far as the Elite Eight more often than not. That team also has to be the one that doesn’t bend the rules, much less break them, and has players far nicer than the rest of the blue bloods.

No loyalty is quite so blind as that of a college sports fan.

It’s amazing how many conversations on the golf course through the years start with a Kansas fan saying: “I hate (John) Calipari.”

“Why?” I ask, knowing the answer: “Because he cheats.”

“Why does everybody say that?" I counter. "Since Cal was at Memphis and still at Kentucky, tons of recruits had both Self and Calipari as their final choices. Some pick Calipari. Others Self. Are you saying the ones who want to get paid go to Kentucky and the ones who don’t want to get paid go to Kansas?

KU fan: “You think Self cheats?”

Me: “I didn’t say that. You said Calipari cheats. I’m saying one coach must not be recruiting much differently from the other because some players choose to play for Calipari, some for Self.”

And others pick Duke, coached by Mike Krzyzewski, the sport’s paragon of purity. Everybody knows that. If the lighting’s just right, I swear you can spot a halo above Coach K’s black-as-night hair.

One such player, Zion Williamson, picked Duke over Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona, Baylor and others.

Interestingly, the Williamson recruitment was the source of the greatest embarrassment for KU to come out in court.

According to a transcript of a bugged phone call between Merl Code of Adidas and Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend, Code speaking of a representative of Williamson’s (likely a family member) said: “I know what he’s asking for. He’s asking for opportunities from an occupational perspective, he’s asking for cash in the pocket and he’s asking for housing for him and his family.”

(Cash in the pocket might not be traceable, but phone calls are.)

Responded Townsend: “I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way because if that’s what it takes to get him here for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”

Again, the player ended up at Duke, not Kansas, so what is the NCAA supposed to do with that one?

It’s easy to picture a Duke fan stuck stuck in the Bermuda-grass rough at a course on Tobacco Road blasting KU basketball, grousing that he doesn’t like Self because he cheats.

“Why then,” his playing partner might ask, “did Zion Williamson go to Duke and not Kansas? Are you telling me that you think Kansas was willing to meet a family member’s demands expressed by an Adidas rep to a KU coach, yet Williamson turned down Kansas and went to Duke for nothing? Is he the world’s only human who doesn’t like money?”

So when you think about it, Coach K is in a position where it would behoove him to defend KU’s honor by saying something along the lines of, “Of course Kansas wasn’t going to do anything illegal to try to get Zion, just as we didn’t do anything illegal.”

In instances such as these, assistant coaches have been known to pay the price with their jobs. I don’t see that here. I can’t see Self using one of his closest friends and most valuable team members as his shield. That's not in his character. And I don’t see Kansas even pondering cutting ties with Self, the university’s biggest rock star. Suspensions? Sure, that’s possible. Terminations? Would you want to try to find a replacement for Self, knowing full well that wherever you turn you will settle on a coach with less impressive abilities as a motivator, in-game tactician, recruiter and smiling ambassador for the university?

Didn’t think so.

Besides, to do so would be to guarantee declining revenues. In what business is that acceptable? Follow the money.

Comments

Jeff Coffman

I kind of disagree, I'm guessing people will believe kids will be just trying to get paid and most people won't understand why the FBI is involved anyways. I'm not saying it's right, but most don't care they just want to see football and basketball.

And most will wonder why we have preseason polls or why Duke or UK isnt #1. I listen to sports radio and the only comments I've heard are those telling us how atm cards are now the way they are funneling money to football players.

As Jurassic park says...nature finds a way.

3 weeks ago

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Suzi Marshall

Let's wait till the spring trials are over and some time to get some perspective. I get it about following rules but the NCAA is and has been so terribly messed up, it's hard for me to get upset with Self, T and Adidas. A good case can be made that Adidas has been a good and loyal partner.

3 weeks ago

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Mike Hart

I find your inability to get upselt with Self, Townsend and Adidas remarkable in that it is appalling. There are so many colleges who aren't aligned with an Adidas or Nike... and it is wholly unfair to those schools to have a partner like Adidas.. who we absolutely know.. .has been funneling payments to recruits, either with or without Unversity's knowledge. It's pretty obvious to most unbiased observers... that KU was waiting to extend it's contract with Adidas, pending the status of DeSousa and Preston. Yet, your view is that "Adidas is a good and loyal partner". I'd rather the NCAA be scrapped of college athletics if a KU, Duke, UK, Arizona.. .can in essence "cheat" by bypassing rules. Have your beef with the NCAA all you want... there is no justification for any potential involvement of the KU basketball program if they had any role in what this is.. .a scandal.

3 weeks ago

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Suzi Marshall

Let's see how things shake out. Since UCLA so egregiously cheated to win all those championships under John Wooden, you must think him and those teams as pure evil.

3 weeks ago

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Mike Hart

Who gives a crap about what anyone ELSE did. It's about integrity and following the rules. You sound like a child that uses the excuse when caught doing something wrong: "Well, everyone else was doing it too". That doesn't make it right. If Self knew recruits were getting funded... then he was essentially lying to our faces. No WONDER it took 6 weeks for KU to "get to the bottom" of the "financial situation" associated with Billy Preston.. and why it took them until Dec 22, 2017 to submit their findings to the NCAA. I wish you WOULD see how things shake out.. instead of immediately defending Self and prescribing to the "Nothing to see here" mentality.

3 weeks ago

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Joe Ross

Apart from the "...sound like a child" comment, my sentiments exactly.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Lawrence McGlinn

I agree with Jeff. I think most fans don't care. I don't think that is right, but most fans don't care how the players got here, just that they are big and fast and skilled enough to blow out most of the competition and win another Big 12 title. Whoopee!. Some of us are disillusioned, though. And I don't know how KU fans will be able to smugly sneer at Calipari or Sean Miller anymore. The 1988 championship came at a key time in my life, and it was particularly satisfying because it was a great player and some overachievers. (not that Larry Brown wasn't playing fast and loose with the rules). Last year had shades of that feeling because early in the season it did not look like a very good team. Then, we got through to the Final Four. When you start #1 in the country, and when you know the lengths that Adidas went to in order to stock our roster anything less than a Final Four would be a huge disappointment.

3 weeks ago

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Brian Mellor

'And I don't know how KU fans will be able to smugly sneer at Calipari or Sean Miller anymore.'

Don't discount the ability of team fans to be complete hypocrites between their team and any other team.

3 weeks ago

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Mike Hart

You can say that again, Brian. Just look at the people blindly defending Townsend and Self... despite texts and communications casting a ton of shadows on the theory that they didn't know what Adidas was doing.

3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

KU not knowing if Adidas was using $$ to steer kids to KU isnt a theory....Gassnola HIMSELF, UNDER OATH said he never told KU what he was doing and worked to conceal his actions..maybe people are defending Self and Townsend because they dont think VAGUE texts and phone calls are enough to condemn them to guilt

3 weeks ago

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Mike Hart

Right, Craig... and explain the Townsend texts while you're at it. Ridiculous...

3 weeks ago

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Steve Grimm

Lawrence, I fear you are probably right that most fans may not care - when you ask them randomly and without stories like this swirling around. However, at the same time, most fans believe their team and coaches have the highest standards and integrity. That is the foundation for being able to boast above other schools. But when a school is found to be "shady", it takes the "indisputable best" out of their ability to boast. And THEN they care.

As for me, I care deeply that the teams that I cheer for are ones of high integrity and play by the rules. I believe that is what KANSAS <should> stand for. Hopefully, at the end of all of this, it is what it does indeed stand for.

3 weeks ago

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Joe Ross

...well if they don’t care now, they will in the future if records and championships are vacated.

We don’t have the luxury of not caring, given actions which could possibly be taken against us. Just who are these people who are so flippant about potential consequences?

3 weeks ago

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Bryce Landon

Interesting that you bring up the prospect of vacating wins and titles. As I recall from the last time I looked at the KU basketball record book, the Jayhawks have NEVER had wins or titles vacated. I'd really hate to see us start now.

3 weeks ago

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Bryce Landon

I am looking forward to the season. I'm looking forward to this Thursday's game with Emporia State. I'm not looking forward to seeing us playing in opposing gyms full of opposing fans chanting "F-B-I! F-B-I!"

3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

it will be an issue all season long.... I expect it to be real bad in Manhattan, Iowa State and Lexington

3 weeks ago

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Edward Daub

Will KU Sports Cancel Future KU Basketball Recruiting Articles? Fat Chance!

3 weeks ago

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Adam Bengtson

This site has just lost its intrigue. Most fans are excited to get this season going. Yet we will be subject to reading more garbage opinion articles such as this. Go write another football article about a program that is a national disgrace. This site gets more obsessed with negativity everyday. I have been die hard basketball fan since mid 90s and this site has almost made me hate KU athletics. Leave it to the “expert” writer to turn a preseason 1 ranking news into horse crap.

Thanks

3 weeks ago

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Joe Ross

I don't mean any disrespect, but this comment strikes me as a sentiment where one is burying his head in the sand while certain realities are swirling around him. In my mind, there is no way a Kansas fan can view the upcoming season apart from an investigation that is *really going on* both at the level of the FBI and the NCAA.

I guarantee you that the college, the athletic department, and the coaching staff will not be ignoring the "negativity" that many others want to pretend does not exist.

3 weeks ago

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Len Shaffer

Unlike Joe, I DO mean disrespect. Your comments are utterly ridiculous. It's the job of reporters to report what's happening. If you want all sunshine and flowers, go to a site that has only puff pieces. Most of us prefer to know what's actually happening.

And BTW, it's also Mr. Keegan's job to give his OPINION. He writes columns from HIS POINT OF VIEW. It continues to amaze me how many people fail to grasp that concept.

3 weeks ago

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Mike Hart

Adam, the negativity for the KU basketball program is well-deserved... it is timely... and it much more important and disgraceful (if true). then the unfortunate fate of the football program. At least the football program is on the level. Have some pride in doing things the right way... otherwise, what sense of pride is there?

3 weeks ago

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David Morrison

I agree Adam. Keegan is a turn coat. He should be writing articles of excitement about the upcoming season. Negative speculation is all his story amounts to. ROCK CHALK... .KU.

3 weeks ago

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Mike Hart

More like David MORON....

3 weeks ago

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Joe Ross

HUH?!? Negative speculation is what's upon us! Have you been paying attention?

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Steve Corder

The question for me is: How deep a look will the NCAA give to KU & Duke? How much will a full-force examination of two Hall of Fame coaches go if the NCAA jumps in with both feet? It could get ugly fast! And not only basketball but football. PANDORAS' BOX

Cash, cars and other inducements have been part of the college athletic scene for decades (pick your favorite story), long before Nike & Adidas.

There are NCAA organizational jobs on the line if a true reveal of college sport payments is done. That is, laying bare the money transfers and outside influences that might blow up the rules that prohibit paying players....Let the bidding wars openly commence.

3 weeks ago

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John Strayer

Yes...I agree...what about football? We've heard for years and years that football is where all the money is at. Football was what was driving conference realignment and TV deals.

So you're telling me Alabama recruits well solely on good reputation?

3 weeks ago

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Phil Leister

People would say Calipari is a cheater because he's had two of his final fours vacated. How is that not mentioned in your golf course conversations Tom?

3 weeks ago

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Len Shaffer

Yeah, I was wondering about that too. A fairly big omission, Tom.

3 weeks ago

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Joe Black

The only cloud over KU basketball is Tom Keegan!

3 weeks ago

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Joe Ross

Obviously you're being very cynical. The cloud is real and has nothing to do with Tom.

3 weeks ago

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Len Shaffer

Yeah, you're right, Joe Black. If Tom Keegan wasn't commenting on it, it wouldn't be happening ...

3 weeks ago

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Cora Smith

Welllllll. Not the only one but a significant one.

3 weeks ago

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Bill Pitcher

I'm wondering what protections our pious school administration built into our recently renewed contract with Adidas.

3 weeks ago

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Andy Tweedy

I used to care more, but now that it appears every school is doing something...not sure exactly what, but something...I don't care!

3 weeks ago

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Robert Brock

adidas needs to explain why the company is so desperate that it resorts to this kind of behavior. Maybe adidas should admit that the company just can’t keep up with the Big Boys in hoops (Nike in particular) and consider getting out. adidas is big-time in soccer. Hoops, NO.

3 weeks ago

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Lance Cheney

I think Adidas is doing just fine financially. You're fooling yourself if you think Nike and Under Armour aren't doing this for recruits. They're just not dumb enough to get caught.

3 weeks ago

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Dillon Davis

I was kind of feeling this way too. It's hard not to think about all this stuff that's happening and worrying what's going to happen. And that's just us as fans. I can't imagine what Bill Self is thinking. But I think as the season gets going we'll stop thinking about it and just enjoy watching hoops.

3 weeks ago

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Dane Pratt

Spot on Tom.

3 weeks ago

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Marius Rowlanski

It's impossible to know at this point what has really happened. I have always had faith in Coach Self so I don't see the need to change anything but the recruitment of Silvio always seemed to be a little cautious.

I remember the recruitment of Julian Wright who committed to Kansas without ever visiting and that looks suspicious but turned out to be completely legit. I'm still expecting the same findings showing Self to be a victim and not a cheater.

Anybody else having troubles logging in through Facebook? I keep getting a message that the Lawrence Journal doesn't have a secure connection.

3 weeks ago

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Brian Babcock

What would Facebook know about security?

3 weeks ago

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Barry Weiss

Maybe I am too much of a homer, but I still believe these kids come to play at KU because of its rich tradition, the national exposure of every game being on TV, playing in Allen Fieldhouse, and being coached up by Coach Self and staff. Maybe a slight few get contacted by Addidas, but to use Coach K's term, its only a blip. I also don't think the NCAA wants to mess with its brand by going after the blue bloods, so I am not going to worry about this.

3 weeks ago

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Bob Strawn

The sport is in a bad place with fans and the media acquiesce.

3 weeks ago

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Scott Oswalt

I bet Townsend will be the sacrificial lamb.

3 weeks ago

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Lance Cheney

Hopefully Beaty will be the sacrificial lamb.

3 weeks ago

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Curtis Hedrick

Interesting that this all started with several NCAA assistant basketball coaches from NIke schools getting ARRESTED. Then AZ's Miller caught on wire tap directing payment to Ayton, yet all we have heard about is the Addidas scandal and how horrible this makes KU look. Ever wonder why the Addidas stuff was tried first? Maybe because they wanted to get small stuff out of the way before nailing the big fish?

Unfortunately, we will have to hear about KU's dirty deeds all year on every game telecast because the Nike trial does not start until next spring. Thank you FBI.....

3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

Nike sponsors about 90% of college sports..it would take the NCAA years to uncover even 1/3 of the benefits given to players to steer them to certain big name schools

3 weeks ago

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Jay Hawkinson

Is it just me, or has this story not gotten very much traction in the national media? Yahoo has been all over this stuff, but elsewhere there have been a few stories about the trial but no follow up. Having this come out during the most sports-heavy part of the calendar (MLB playoffs, NFL, college football, NBA, NHL) was very beneficial. KU is not going to impose much of its own discipline unless there is a national outcry, and so far so good.

The NCAA is another matter. DeSousa's eligibility is a real concern. The calls and texts don't quite prove that the coaches committed any recruiting violations, but there is enough there that we probably won't get the benefit of the doubt on related situations. This whole thing also has "lack of institutional control" written all over it.

3 weeks ago

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Larry McGlinn

What about this proposal? I am a prof, so I am biased, but hear me out. First, KU gave me a great education. Thanks, KU. How about getting rid of the concept of student-athletes since most athletes going to P5 schools really are not that interested in school? And we are seeing that the best ones are not really amateurs, anyway. P5 athletic depts essentially act financially independent of the universities, also. So, athletes would have the option to take classes if they wish. Let Adidas, Nike, Under Armour pay them openly, so the sleazy "handlers" are less of an issue. The only stipulation is that some % of athletic dept revenue from "Fat Cats" and shoe companies has to go to the academic part of the university. So, biologists or engineers working on important stuff have another source of funding. I have been to SEC schools where the chem labs are using 30-year-old equipment while the football teams have palaces they use maybe 8 times per year. I understand that people don't pay to watch chemists like they do the football or b-ball team, but it would be nice if there actually were a college in college sports.

3 weeks ago

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Suzi Marshall

I agree with you about the part to let 3rd parties make deals with athletes. However, most Universities do receive money from their athletic departments. Most share merchandising revenues 50/50 and a great many, nearly 50% I believe, have provision that a certain percentage of the 'Fat Cat' contribution go to the a general University Fund. In theory, it would be nice to have broader revenue sharing between the University and Athletics, however universities tend to badly mismanage money. That doesn't even take into account the animosity many have toward universities as left wing factories that oppress individual rights like due process and freedom of speech.

3 weeks ago

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Joe Ross

I like the idea Larry, but I foresee some problems.

1. The NCAA will take the position that the core of the mission of member schools is to educate, and apart from education there is really no need to associate with an athlete. They will argue that venues already exist for athletes unaffiliated with universities to pursue inclusion into the NBA (that being the G league and overseas playing opportunities).

2. Shoe companies could have a profound effect on which colleges actually win championships. The reality is that because of reputation, some schools are already ahead of others in terms of getting players; but your solution could exacerbate the problem by front-loading certain schools with the most capable athletes. These would be the schools most closely associated with the shoe companies. The Kansas's, the North Carolinas, the Dukes, etc. The little guys would be marginalized even more.

3. I believe the fans would also not feel well about athletes who have more allegiance to money than to their school. And though not an apparent problem at the outset, I can guarantee you there would be grumblings from fans about such a system if it were to play out as you propose.

4. Do you wonder about the coachability of a player receiving half a million dollars? Ego would be a problem. Ball hogging? And imagine you're a player who only gets a scholarship playing with one of these guys. Does team cohesion not trouble you?

3 weeks ago

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Joe Baker

Calipari clouds include:
Marcus Camby
Terrance Jones - verballed to Lorenzo Romar and then Calipari signed him. He was driving a new car around campus that was a gift from his gma!!

Not saying he cheats, but he has clouds!

3 weeks ago

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Doug Merrill

What I don't see:
The report of the full investigation, including Self's and other coaches ability to respond to witnesses under oath. When was the date of that report, Tom?

What I do see is the JW continuing to report speculation based on the same paltry facts, day after day.

What I don't see: a cloud.

3 weeks ago

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Mike Hart

Doug, all I can say is go see an optometrist and get your prescription checked if you don't see a dark cloud. And shame on you if you don't. You DO see it... you just choose to ignore it.

3 weeks ago

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Joe Ross

The cloud is real.

...and we're not just talking about Apple.

3 weeks ago

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Jeff Coffman

Everyone forgets is the reason why KU is in the news is because the whole premise of the federal case is that KU didn't know. The quotes even for Townsend was actually a piece of a call that was inadmissible in court. The attorney was only able to read a small portion, but not able to play the entire message or the context of the message. Based on the case it is actually noteworthy that KU is being used, because it is the school that best suits the Federal case, KU and Bill Self did not know.

3 weeks ago

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Joe Ross

C'mon Jeff.

Here's what you have to know. The federal case isn't going to make Kansas guilty. But information that comes to light in the federal case can be used by the NCAA to determine eligibility (including decisions of retroactive ineligibility), vacate wins, and face whatever penalities the NCAA might wish to impose including reduced scholarship numbers etc.

"Lack of institutional control".

Again. It's NOT THE FEDERAL CASE DIRECTLY!

3 weeks ago

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Michael Sillman

In this instance I don’t have any problem with Keegan going negative. The cloud is vey real and is a genuine concern for Jayhawk basketball fans as it should be.

I have been able to calm myself by recognizing that the defense lawyers will have pulled out their big guns to try to impact the trial. Obviously they intentionally did not provide much context for the Self and Townsend conversations. So it is likely that we’ve heard the worst in the worst possible light. I don’t foresee any unexpected shoes dropping in the future.

3 weeks ago

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Tamara Khiatani

The case is so bizarre to me. So if KU is dirty, the federal prosecutors are willing to look the other way because they want to send these shoe guys to prison for "defrauding" colleges? If there is a conviction, I don't see it lasting on appeal. Everyone involved is shady, including the Feds.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Danny Hernandez

blah blah blah, when's the first game?

3 weeks ago

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Dane Pratt

Not just a cloud over KU basketball but college basketball. What has been disclosed so far could be the tip of the iceberg.

3 weeks ago

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Tamara Khiatani

It is the tip of the iceberg, and it's in KU's best interest for the rest of the story to get out quickly so we're not out there on an island. Re Keegan's article, DOES anyone think Coach Cal is clean?? And is Duke really the paragon of virtue, and players are passing up cash elsewhere for the honor of playing for Coach K? No.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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James Miller

Responded Townsend: “I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way because if that’s what it takes to get him here for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”

I REALLY don't think this means Townsend was willing to break NCAA rules. I think it means, he was willing to try and put a strategy together that may help the young man with his needs; especially on the point of offering his dad job. I am not an NCAA rules expert, but if that illegal, we should hand back our last two titles.

Anyways, I don't see a man speaking about breaking rules. I see a man frustrated by the system and under pressure to produce results. I also see this man saying to another very influential man that we have to put the full court press on this kid. I don't think that means that Kurtis was doing anything dirty.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Mike Hart

James, how are the unicorns and rainbows in the world you are living in?

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Tamara Khiatani

I've seen stories online saying Zion's family moved into an expensive house in Durham. I don't know if that's true but it seems that would be pretty easy to investigate and follow the money. As far as I can tell via google, no reputable reporter has done a story on it either way. The family could not have even moved to Durham for all I know. But given that his family seemed to be shopping for a deal that included housing, that is interesting. If Duke gets dragged into this mess, the NCAA is going to have to make some rule changes or something, because it won't want to put Duke on probation.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Elliott Teters

There is a part of all this reported scandalous behavior that I just can't get through my mind: It Kansas was a participant in the 90K recruitment of Billy Preston, why didn't they just hide the Charger or send it back to Florida or something? Even after they made him sit on the bench and miss all the season's real games, Self was still insisting that he anticipated a positive outcome of the NCAA investigation. Was Self just blowing smoke and if so, I wonder why he disliked Preston so much that he kept him on the team for so long instead of advising him to start his professional career overseas earlier than he did?

I would feel far more comfortable condemning Self if there was some proof other than hearsay. I would think that Addidas would have to have some type of money trail. What company can hide hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash? Even if Gassnola was skilled at padding his expense account, somewhere checks had to be converted to cash. The FBI is as skilled at tracing money as any organization on the planet. I find it hard to believe they could not find a smoking gun.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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