Don't blame ex-KU star McLemore or his AAU coach — blame the system

Don't blame ex-KU star Ben McLemore or his AAU coach — blame the dang system

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The real trouble with the Ben McLemore saga is that it’s a comic book without a clear-cut villain to spit on. We want a bad guy, a heavy. We want someone to boo and hiss, someone to wear the black hat and like it.
The AAU coach who took the money. The runner for the agents. McLemore himself. Kansas coach Bill Self. The university.
Here’s one: Why not the NCAA?
A few days before a USA Today report in which Darius Cobb, the AAU coach of McLemore, Kansas’ former freshman swingman, admitted to taking cash and gifts from a middle man in exchange for an endorsement, the wingtips in Indianapolis struck a killer blow to that dark, insidious plague that’s killing quasi-amateur sports as we know it:
Yes, sir. Twitter hashtags are banned from appearing on the field of play in college football. Website URLs? Also verboten.
“Except as noted herein, there may be no advertising on the field, which includes the end zones and sidelines areas,” the memo from the NCAA’s Football Rules Committee read.
The noted herein? The NCAA logo, university logos, conference logos, and — wait for it — the names of commercial sponsors.
Which means, if, say, a big-box hardware chain wants their name on the field in large letters in two locations, NCAA president Mark Emmert thinks that’s nifty, because they paid for it. But #BostonStrong didn’t, so to heck with those freeloaders.
It never fails. When you tell them it’s about business, they say it’s about education. When you tell them it’s about education, they say it’s about business.
Either way, it’s hard to get your underwear twisted into a bunch about a poor family trying to job a system that’s pretty well jobbed to begin with.
Now that’s not to completely absolve McLemore’s inner circle, either, some of whom may have been “bought” in hopes of swaying a soon-to-be-wealthy young man from a rough St. Louis neighborhood to patronize a specific service once the NBA checks start rolling in. Just because this sort of rigmarole may go on all the time doesn’t make it any more — well, right.
Barring alien abduction or a freak lightning strike, McLemore is going to be gone by fifth pick of next month’s NBA Draft. According to another USA Today piece, McLemore’s mother, Sonya Reid, a woman with six mouths to feed, was out of work as recently as February. McLemore’s older brother, Keith Scott, is doing time at a maximum-security prison. Again, that doesn’t give anyone a free pass here, but it does provide some context.
No. 23 went to Kansas to because it’s one of the best places on the planet to prepare him for a career that will set him and his loved ones up, theoretically, for the rest of their lives. He majored in basketball, and Lawrence loved him for it.
And while this tale sort of reignites the stick of dynamite that is the discussion of student-athlete compensation, a weekly stipend for Ben McLemore isn’t going to keep a cousin or an AAU coach from trying to make a fast buck on their own. The more dollars in play, the more hands reaching out for a piece of the action.
If you’re a Jayhawk fan at the water cooler, you’ve probably already endured a weekend of your Missouri pals (if you have them) lobbing fireballs at your program and its alleged ethical failings. Pot points at kettle, kettle points at pot, names get called, the trolls come rushing out with torches, and message boards implode.
Yet let’s also be clear about one thing from the initial report, something that gets lost in the headline: the AAU coach in question claims McLemore himself knew nothing about the money. Nor are Self or the KU athletic department implicated in any way, to this point, other than through association.
And, by the same token, it’s hard for any rational person to imagine Self willfully allowing this, let alone condoning it. KU wants middle men swaying the gifted to Lawrence, not middle men running around Allen Fieldhouse swaying Jayhawks to cast their lots with the David Stern crowd. To put it another way, what the devil does Self have to gain by this sordid affair as we know it so far, other than a migraine?
Still, rules are rules, however asinine the makers, and Bylaw states that “an individual shall be ineligible ... if he or she (or his or her relatives or friends) accepts transportation or other benefits from, A) any person who represents any individual in the marketing of his or her athletics ability, or B) an agent, even if the agent had indicated that he or she has no interest in representing the student-athlete in the marketing of his or her athletics ability or reputation and does not represent individuals in the student-athlete's sport."
The “relatives or friends” line is, like a lot of NCAA rules, a mandate with its heart in the right place but its wording in left field. It casts such a wide net that it seems almost impossible for any university to effectively enforce with 100 percent impunity.
Where do we draw the line at friends? Or relatives?
The runner in question wound up on McLemore’s guest list for KU home games. Should Self have had someone running a background check on everyone players invite to The Phog? Where does it start? More to the point, where does it end?
I asked a successful college hoops coach Sunday about the “relatives or friends” bit in regards to this case. How can a coach or staff possibly and reasonably police of a potentially massive pool of peripherals, each with their own self-interests?
“You can’t,” he said, chuckling.
But hashtags — now, that, you can stop. And Emmert wonders why reporters pick fights with him.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at

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