Today ESPN reported that the eligibility of Kentucky freshman John Wall is in doubt, but that the future lottery pick may be sidelined for just three or so games. Assuming no new facts come to light, the story was an excellent example of the “WHAT?!…Oh, is that all?” reaction that news professionals now refer to as the balloon boy sequence: shock and fright followed by a shrug.
The man at the center of the matter, for once, is not UK coach John Calipari. Nor is it Wall, really. No, today’s news is actually the doing of Brian Clifton, who was a sports agent for about a year until early 2008, at which time he relinquished his license. Clifton says he left the agent business because he wanted to focus on his North Carolina-based D-One Sports program and, anyway, he hadn’t signed any clients. But in putting together his invaluable article on Clifton last year, Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com talked to sources who said Clifton’s hand was forced by a new NCAA online system for accrediting AAU and summer league coaches. One of the questions coaches now have to answer is:
Are you a licensed sports agent, runner/recruiter, or representative/agent/employee of a sports agency?
An answer in the affirmative from Clifton would have prohibited him from acting as Wall’s AAU coach.
From Kentucky’s perspective, however, the problem is that Clifton had already been Wall’s coach, in 2007, at the same time that he was a licensed agent. Having had an agent as his AAU coach makes Wall the recipient, in the eyes of the NCAA, of improper benefits. To become certified as an amateur eligible to compete, Wall in theory will have to reimburse Clifton for any benefits received, as well as sit out ten percent of UK’s regular season games. Wildcat compliance officials have reportedly been working for months to identify exactly what is owed to Clifton.
All in all it’s been an eventful couple years for Clifton. In the summer of 2008 his brother, Dwon Clifton, was hired by Baylor to serve as the Bears’ director of player development, a position that did not previously exist in Waco. The hire wasn’t enough to lure Wall to Baylor, obviously, but then again the story of the Cliftons and John Wall isn’t over yet. Parrish has wondered aloud if Brian Clifton might have sufficient chutzpah to simply renew his license as a sports agent at the end of Wall’s only college season. Or perhaps Wall will sign with Bill Duffy Associates, an agency made famous by the O.J. Mayo saga and one that signed NC State product Cameron Bennerman after he’d been counseled by Brian Clifton.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First comes the actual basketball, even if Wall’s season is ten percent shorter than originally scheduled. Calipari has said that Wall is further along than Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans were at this point. High praise, indeed. In a forthcoming book that I highly recommend you pick up, you’ll learn exactly how Kentucky’s 2008-09 season came apart at the seams on the floor. (You already know why it came apart off the court.) In the meantime I will say that if Wall wants to make the most of his brief stint in Lexington, he’d do well to set the following goals:
1) Take care of the rock
2) Feed Patrick Patterson
Because I have a feeling the scoring will take care of itself.