As the college basketball universe gathers for the Final Four in this burgeoning city, controversial Kentucky coach John Calipari once again finds himself at the center of it.
In just his second season with the Wildcats, he has rejuvenated the tradition-rich program from the depths of missing the NCAA tournament in 2009 for the first time in 18 years and guided it to its first Final Four since its 1998 national championship behind another one of his celebrated freshman classes.
In doing so, Calipari has become just the second coach to take three different programs to the Final Four, although his appearances with Massachusetts and Memphis were stricken after violations of NCAA rules during his watch were later discovered. His fourth-seeded Wildcats (29-8) play third-seeded Connecticut (30-9) on Saturday in the national semifinals.
But forgotten in Calipari’s quick turnaround of Kentucky is a native of this bustling metroplex who was instrumental in the Wildcats’ resurrection: Bilal Batley.
Batley abruptly resigned as assistant director of basketball operations/manager after he violated NCAA rules by rebounding for a player during a workout in July 2009. Kentucky self-reported the secondary violation and sent Batley a letter of admonishment.
Batley’s job did not allow him to have on-court interaction with players. When he resigned, a team spokesman said he did so to return home because of an illness in his family.
But a nearly two-year FOXSports.com investigation revealed that Batley also broke NCAA rules by making repeated impermissible telephone calls while at both Memphis and Kentucky to recruits, such as DeMarcus Cousins, and their parents.
When approached by a FOXSports.com reporter after his news conference on Friday, Calipari refused to address any questions concerning whether he was aware of Batley’s calls and whether or not Kentucky self-reported the violations.
NCAA rules state that all telephone calls made to or received from a recruit, his parents, legal guardians or coaches must be made and received by a team’s head coach or three countable assistant coaches.
According to Memphis and Kentucky, Batley was not a countable coach at either school. NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson declined comment to FOXSports.com on the alleged violations.
But Cousins, a Sacramento Kings rookie forward who played for Kentucky as a freshman last season and then left for the NBA draft, said Batley played a “big role” in him committing first to Memphis. He then followed Calipari to Kentucky shortly after the coach’s hiring in April 2009.
Cousins was the first major recruit that Calipari landed at Kentucky and helped re-establish the Wildcats’ recruiting reputation among the nation’s elite. He said he and his mother, Monique Cousins, talked to Batley on the telephone while he was at Memphis and Kentucky.
“We stayed in contact with him frequently,” DeMarcus Cousins told FOXSports.com in an interview prior to his first game at Kentucky.
Oklahoma freshman guard Cameron Clark and Houston point guard L.J. Rose, one of the nation’s top recruits in the Class of 2012, both said they also talked to Batley via telephone and through text messages while he was at Kentucky.
“He talks to my dad a lot,” Rose said shortly after Batley’s resignation. “I talk to him once or twice every two weeks.”
Rose’s AAU coach, Marland Lowe of Houston Hoops, said he and Batley had talked “all the time.”
When contacted by FOXSports.com, Batley, who said he coached this past season at Navarro College, a junior college in Corsicana, Texas, declined to answer any questions.
“I don’t want to, you know, kind of move forward in terms of writing a story about myself at this moment of time,” said Batley, 28. “I kind of want to leave it at that.”
Batley recommended that FOXSports.com call former NBA coach and mentor John Lucas for “anything about me.” Batley said he works for Lucas and got his coaching start under him, but declined to give specifics.
“That’s kind of who’s over me right now,” said Batley, a 2007 graduate of the University of Oklahoma.
But when contacted about Batley, Lucas had nothing to say about him.
“I don’t know why he gave you my number to call,” Lucas said.
Lucas said he would talk to Batley and call back FOXSports.com, but he never did. Lucas did not return subsequent telephone and text messages left on his cell phone.
Long before being hired by Calipari, Batley had a checkered past.
While a student assistant coach at Navarro for three years, Batley was driving a van carrying players back from a game in February 2004 when the vehicle was broadsided by a tractor-trailer rig in Paris, Texas, killing two players and injuring five others inside.
Prior to the collision, he and the driver of another van carrying Navarro players had missed their turns and both were backtracking. The other van made a u-turn and Batley was doing the same behind it when his van was struck by the tractor-trailer.
The case was presented to a grand jury and Batley was not indicted, said Shane Boatwright, the lead investigator of the wreck for Paris police department.
Batley then left Navarro and became a student manager at Oklahoma under then-Sooners coach Kelvin Sampson, who along with his assistants was found by the NCAA to have made 577 impermissible telephone calls to recruits from 2000 to 2004.
When Sampson left for Indiana in April 2006, he was banned a month later by the NCAA from calling recruits and making off-campus visits for a year because of the extra calls at Oklahoma. Batley eventually joined Sampson at Indiana as a graduate manager.
While working for the Hoosiers, Batley attended several high school games of then-highly touted recruit Nolan Dennis, a shooting guard out of Richland Hills, Texas, according to Richard Bacon, Dennis’ high school coach.
“Somehow or another they got real close,” Bacon said. “They spent a lot of time together. Bilal was at a lot of our games his sophomore year. I didn’t even know who he was until I saw him at our games.”
But Dennis had attended a Dynasty Elite Camp that Batley ran for top recruits just outside of Memphis in the summer of 2006 while Batley was in between jobs at Oklahoma and Indiana. It was also attended by Cousins, current North Carolina sophomores Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald, current Memphis freshman point guard Joe Jackson and current Portland Trailblazers rookie guard Elliot Williams.
Indiana eventually rose to the top of Dennis’ list, but Sampson resigned in February 2008 after an NCAA report charged him with five major rules violations, which included violating the telephone recruiting restrictions imposed on him for his actions at Oklahoma.
Dennis ended up committing to Memphis in July 2008 – about a month before Batley joined Calipari and the Tigers as assistant director of basketball operations/manager. While Batley was at Indiana and Memphis, Dennis said he received calls from him.
When Calipari left for Kentucky, Dennis reopened his recruitment and signed at Baylor, where he left last month because of medical reasons.
McDonald and Strickland also confirmed through a school spokesman that they were contacted by Batley while he was at Indiana. After meeting Batley at his Dynasty Elite Camp, Jackson also said Batley called him often.
“We talked a lot, but not as much as you’d expect,” Jackson said.
This Final Four, Kentucky’s spotlight shines on Calipari and his quest to capture his elusive first national championship. But for Batley, college basketball’s bright lights have dimmed.