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Basketball recruiting: decommitments are coming, but danger lurks

There could be program-changing players newly available. But will they get caught in the wide-ranging federal investigation?

Virginia Tech v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Today, as part of the fallout from the US Department of Justice charges against the Louisville basketball program (along with other assistant coaches at other schools) - Rick Pitino has been effectively fired. (There are a number of reasons he seems to have not been fired outright, including a clause in his contract that says he is to receive 10 days notice.)

Louisville, of course, brings in excellent college basketball players. And some of those players might be attractive to a program like, say, St. John’s.

BUT.

While there is likely some interest in reaching out to the available players, also note that along with the removal of Pitino and the Athletic Director, the player in question, Brian Bowen, has been suspended from basketball activity by Louisville.

The suspension is a sign that the school believes that Bowen will not be eligible under NCAA rules. The DOJ’s documents indicate that adidas and Louisville conspired to send him to Louisville and also pay the player’s family $100,000.

Under NCAA rules, that is the kind of thing that leaves a player ineligible, though the NCAA doesn’t have much power to really punish coaches. The NCAA will use its bully power over players to keep one who is caught taking money from playing in the NCAA.

Now, two top 100 players in the Class of 2018 have decommitted from Louisville - Courtney Ramey and Anfernee Simmons. Moses Brown was thought to be a Louisville lean.

BUT.

Knowing that the NCAA and the FBI/ DOJ are investigating the programs, the shoe companies (Nike received a subpoena) and other possibly not-yet-named schools, coaches and players...

Going after a decommitted player could be an excellent success, especially with coaches likely to be scared of any illicit payments.

But the St. John’s coaching staff will need to recruit more carefully than before and vet the highly-regarded college basketball players who become available.

But what if there is evidence that a player has received money from one of the shoe companies that fund college basketball and AAU programs? Or has a deal with an agent in the future?

The investigations are ongoing and are likely to span years. The DOJ is interested in the shoe companies, which means they are interested in AAU programs and their revenue structures. Which means they are interested in how money gets to ostensibly amateur players.

Those players won’t face jail time - but the NCAA will have an interest in looking tough the only way it knows how, by ruling athletes ineligible. Or making those players find all kinds of documentation to disprove allegations, leaving them out of practice and games into the season.

Already, Nassir Little, a target St. John’s coveted before being left out of his final five, seems to be a player mentioned in the court documents.

Imagine the scenario: a top player could commit to a school like St. John’s, only for the Red Storm to find that player is ineligible in the summer of 2018 because of some cash for a visit or an existing handshake deal and some support - leaving an empty scholarship spot for Chris Mullin and his staff.

That uncertainty is not what any coach wants to start the season.