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Did Kentucky find the ultimate loophole when adding Jai Lucas to the staff?

Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This article was originally published on August 25 and has since been updated following Kentucky’s official hiring of Jai Lucas as a special assistant to the head coach and recruiting coordinator.

Earlier this month, the University of Kentucky posted a job opening within the men’s basketball program as a special assistant to the head coach/recruiting coordinator, with an application deadline being August 27.

“The Special Assistant to Men’s Basketball Coach/Recruiting Coordinator duties include but not limited to: recruiting evaluation and administration, scouting future opponents and provides feedback directly to head coach and staff outside of practice and competition, and providing additional counsel on all aspects of men’s basketball program outside of practice and competition,” the official job description reads. “Responsibilities include basketball program observation; advance scouting; advising and guidance provision; and special projects coordination. Must adhere to State, University, NCAA and SEC rules, regulations, policies and procedures.”

The created job opening came just days after former Kentucky recruiting target and Texas assistant coach Jai Lucas emerged as a serious candidate to join the UK staff.

Last week, Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports confirmed the news that Lucas was officially finalizing a deal to go to Kentucky in an “off-court role,” with Kentucky officially announcing the addition on Aug. 31.

As details emerge of the official addition – roughly $350,000 per year as a special assistant to Calipari – it’s fair to ask why Lucas, who is considered one of the top up-and-coming recruiters in college basketball and a full-time assistant at Texas, would leave Austin for an off-court coaching position that would not allow him to recruit off campus?

Did he see the writing on the wall that Shaka Smart could be on his way out at Texas? Possibly. Has he been informed that he will step in as a full-time assistant at Kentucky next year to justify the one-year break, with a solid pay raise being included to sweeten the deal? Hm, now we’re getting somewhere.

But what if I told you that – on top of the aforementioned factors – Lucas’ “demotion” won’t really be a demotion at all for the lone year he’s expected to hold the position?

With the hiring of the Texas ace recruiter, Kentucky now has the ability to have John Calipari, Bruiser Flint, Tony Barbee, Joel Justus and Lucas together on Zoom calls/virtual visits, and it will be completely legal.

While he won’t be able to pick up the phone and call recruits and their families with limited restrictions the same way Calipari, Flint, Barbee and Justus can as official coaches, Lucas will still be able to serve as a key recruiting piece and potentially help seal the deal on commitments as the “virtual visit” trend continues to pick up and on- and off-campus recruiting continues to get pushed back.

In interviews with various parents of recruits, KSR has learned that secondary members of the UK program have been active participants on the video calls, including the likes of Rob Harris (strength coach) and Brady Kennedy (recruiting analyst). Just this past week, Clyde Hopkins, father of four-star forward Bryce Hopkins, told KSR that Kennedy and Harris were on the Zoom call in which Calipari extended a scholarship offer, adding that Harris was hands-on in the meeting regarding the Kentucky target’s potential future body transformation in Lexington.

“They had the strength coach, Rob [Harris], Coach Cal,” said Hopkins. “I’m not familiar with the entire coaching staff yet, but [Tony] Barbee, he was there. They also had [UK recruiting analyst] Brady [Kennedy] on there. Brady, Barbee, Coach Cal, and Rob [Harris]. … I believe [Bryce] is still growing, we talked to Coach Cal and his strength guy about how he’d transform his body. Once we get that done, he will become more explosive, more agile. He’ll be more athletic.”

When asked about the addition of secondary members of the staff, a source within the Kentucky basketball program likened Zoom meetings/virtual visits to unofficial visits in the eyes of the NCAA, adding flexibility to what schools are allowed to do with recruits being unable to visit campuses in person. In a sense, they’re simply bringing the unofficial visits to the athletes in a virtual format, hoping to show off campus and the facilities the exact same way they’d be able to if the recruits were physically there.

“This was actually my first time doing a Zoom call, and I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty neat, man. It’s neat, it really is,” Clyde Hopkins told KSR earlier this month. “To be in the comfort of your home and get a feel for the staff and to actually see them, talk with them. It’s pretty neat. I’ll tell you one thing, it saves you some money, I’ll tell you that. You don’t have to always drive down that highway [to different schools].”

It has been made clear that as an off-court special assistant, Lucas will not legally be able to recruit off-campus or participate in any on-court coaching or instruction, per bylaw of the official NCAA rulebook. Countable Coach. An institutional staff member or any other individual outside the institution (e.g., consultant, professional instructor) with whom the institution has made arrangements must count against coaching limits in the applicable sport as soon as the individual participates (in any manner) in any of the following:

(a) Provides technical or tactical instruction related to the sport to a student-athlete at any time;

(b) Makes or assists in making tactical decisions related to the sport during on-court or on-field practice or competition; or

(c) Engages in any off-campus recruiting activities.

What Lucas is legally allowed to do in his given role, per NCAA bylaw, is make phone calls leading up to official and unofficial visits, along with contacting signed prospects, among other behind-the-scenes work. A noncoaching staff member or a coach who does not count toward the numerical limitations on head and assistant coaches in Bylaw 11.7.6 may perform the functions set forth in Bylaw 11.7.2

(a) after the institution receives a financial deposit in response to the institution’s offer of admission.

(b) after the prospective student-athlete signs a National Letter of Intent or the institution’s written offer of admission and/or financial aid.

(c) may initiate telephone calls to a prospective student-athlete or those individuals accompanying the prospective student-athlete during the five days immediately preceding the official visit and during the official visit.

(d) may initiate telephone calls to a prospective student-athlete (or those individuals accompanying the prospective student-athlete) beginning the day immediately preceding the unofficial visit until the conclusion of the visit.

(e) may initiate telephone calls to a prospective student-athlete (or his or her family members or coach) that relate solely to institutional camp or clinic logistical issues (e.g., missing registration information), provided no recruiting conversation or solicitation of particular individuals to attend a camp or clinic occurs during such calls.

Normally, Lucas would be limited in what he is allowed to do, and making a solid chunk of cash to do so. But we’re not in normal times.

Looking into the NCAA’s updated COVID-19 Question and Answer Guide, the organization has made it clear that as long as the Zoom meetings are initiated by a legal coach – Calipari, Flint, Barbee or Justus – “any institutional staff member may participate in the call.”

“If the call with the prospective student-athlete is initiated by the institution’s coach, any institutional staff member may participate in the call,” the official update reads. “NCAA Bylaw (Exceptions — Before Commitment) identifies institutional staff members who may initiate or return telephone or video calls to prospective student-athletes prior to commitment, and any requirements that must be met for those calls to be permissible.”

Just like Kentucky’s other secondary staff members, Lucas will be allowed to participate in virtual calls and meetings, meaning the school will be able to utilize him as an unofficial recruiter moving forward. As much behind-the-scenes work he’ll do on the recruiting front – evaluation, administration, scouting, etc. – Lucas will still be able to do what he does best as a relationship builder and connections guy until in-person recruiting opens back up.

To take it a step further, the NCAA has extended its recruiting dead period from Aug. 31 through Sept. 30, prohibiting college coaches from in-person recruiting and evaluation. Behind the scenes, there is further speculation we may not see off-campus recruiting or evaluation until 2021, which would essentially take out the necessity of moving Lucas to a full-time assistant coaching role from day one. Bruiser Flint – a 30-year veteran coach with 20 years of head coaching experience – certainly fits better in that immediate role from an on-court coaching perspective.

In the off chance the NCAA allows on-campus visits in the coming months, Lucas will play a significant role on that front. In Kentucky’s official release, the school announced the new assistant will “independently manage official and unofficial visits and be responsible for all recruiting strategy for the program,” on top of his other in-house duties as a special assistant to the head coach.

If in-person visits remain barred by the NCAA, he’ll continue to make an impact on crucial virtual visits and Zoom meetings alongside Kentucky’s full coaching staff.

The priority was to get Lucas on staff in some form or fashion immediately and figure out how to get him on as a full-time assistant when it truly matters after the 2020-21 season. By bringing him on board as a special assistant to the head coach/recruiting coordinator now, Kentucky is allowing Lucas to utilize his impressive recruiting abilities while maximizing Flint’s coaching abilities.

We don’t know when in-person recruiting and visits will return to normalcy, but until then, Kentucky has finalized a coaching staff set to compete against the best of the best in college basketball both on and off the floor.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

24 Comments for Did Kentucky find the ultimate loophole when adding Jai Lucas to the staff?

  1. BigBogee
    2:08 pm August 25, 2020 Permalink

    So, who will be the on court coach that leaves to open the spot for Lucas next year?

    • Jack Pilgrim
      2:40 pm August 25, 2020 Permalink

      Either someone takes a head coaching job (Joel Justus was a candidate for two this offseason) or Bruiser Flint slides into the special assistant role, similar to the move John Robic made.

  2. ClutchCargo
    2:49 pm August 25, 2020 Permalink

    Does this seem to indicate that Robic is looking at retirement or otherwise transitioning out? I can’t say I would blame him for thinking about life after basketball, given what he and his family are going through.

    • dandycat
      3:21 am August 26, 2020 Permalink

      Maybe taking Peevy job and Jai takes over as a bench assistant?

  3. ThatsAShame
    2:55 pm August 25, 2020 Permalink

    Just here to say I fondly recall the “any word on Jai or Patterson” days of this site

  4. the ghost of Bill Hicks
    3:03 pm August 25, 2020 Permalink

    I’ve heard “Lucas is a done deal” before. Not holding my breath…..

  5. michaelb
    3:31 pm August 25, 2020 Permalink

    That’s a lot of words for ‘all star bag man’.
    Jk Jack … I think he will be a force

  6. chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
    5:08 pm August 25, 2020 Permalink

    I didn’t take the time to read all the nuances of the regulations, but big picture: I see value in having him on Zoom calls and spending time with recruits when they visit. But I see MUCH more value in an ace recruiter (as we’re being told he is) being in guy’s homes too. Look at Vince Marrow. Do any of us believe he would be as effective if he were taken off the road and relegated to Zoom calls and campus visits only? I don’t. Look at how many of these guys look at him as a father figure because of the love he shows them.

    This is so important in bball now that Dook is again getting the creme de la creme that we used to get. I know Jai may be on the road next year, but every year counts so much in the one and done era.

    • satcheluk
      5:35 pm August 25, 2020 Permalink

      I suspect in Cal’s mind this is a long term move, but let’s figure out a loophole to get 40% value out of him this year. A bit of a highly paid intern, if you will. I’m a football first Cat fan and haven’t read an article about basketball recruiting in as long as I can remember, but this move to younger has peaked my interest. The next few years could be a reversion to mean for Cal. That would be worth following.

    • BowdenQB4ever
      5:41 pm August 25, 2020 Permalink

      Yeah, it seems like you’d want your new ace recruiter to be able to initiate these calls on his own. What is Jai Lucas going to say on a call that John Calipari can’t? Frankly speaking, why is the strength and conditioning coach doing recruiting work for a 4*? Cal really can’t seal that deal on his own? It’s plainly clear that something has changed in the program and it feels like Cal is really scrambling to hold things together while he tries to figure it out.

    • KentuckyBoy
      7:16 am August 26, 2020 Permalink

      You have to remember these kids aren’t getting to tour our facilities in the traditional sense. Talking to the strength and conditioning coach would be a part of the facilities tour. I don’t think Rob is part of the “sales pitch” other than to show what our weight rooms has to offer, and talk about his role with the team. I think Jai’s role is to get kids on the phone that maybe we haven’t gotten an opportunity to talk to. That’s his strength from what we’ve been told. He knows everyone, and is well connected.

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      6:07 pm August 25, 2020 Permalink

      satchel, I realize that the goal appears to be long-term, but that’s kind of my point. I don’t see how we can afford to sacrifice even 1 year of recruiting in the current environment. I believe that’s we’re sort of doing by bringing in a guy who won’t be allowed to be on the road and thus lay a solid foundation for next year. Oh well, if he comes aboard, he’s a Cat (at long last! lol) and I’m on his side!

    • ClutchCargo
      8:59 am August 26, 2020 Permalink

      The thing is, nobody is going on the road much at all now. So being able to participate on the Zoom calls makes that a non-issue.

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      4:28 pm August 26, 2020 Permalink

      That is true for now, for sure, but it could open back up in the spring. PLEASE let that be the case since it would mean this craziness has subsided at least somewhat.

  7. bbn606
    6:11 pm August 25, 2020 Permalink

    This is similar to what Nick Sagan has been doing for years.

  8. light my fire
    1:17 am August 26, 2020 Permalink

    Never ever even thought I’d say it or think it. It’s about time for a new coach. Still gets good recruits but can’t do anything long term because they leave and too young to win it all.

    I get sick of hearing it’s a process.

    • Bluehender
      7:35 am August 26, 2020 Permalink

      Winner..winner…dumbest comment of the day. It came early but it’ll probably hold up.

    • Ez21
      7:37 am August 26, 2020 Permalink

      So who do you wanna get that’s better? People forget so quickly about the Tubby years along w the Billy G debacle.

    • ClutchCargo
      9:02 am August 26, 2020 Permalink

      There’s a lot of time left, Bluehender, and I won’t underestimate the ability of dumb commenters. But this one is definitely the clubhouse leader.

    • Bluehender
      9:40 am August 26, 2020 Permalink

      True that Clutch..

    • Bluehender
      2:23 pm August 26, 2020 Permalink

      Well Clutch, it turns out he made an even dumber comment, mentioning Rex Chapman on a previous article and it came in at 12:57 this morning. So this previous winning comment takes second place to that one. Or does it? It’s questionable, but no doubt he’s in a class by himself today. So far..

  9. Irish son
    12:45 pm August 26, 2020 Permalink

    It would be a great move for UK to promote Robic to Assistant Athletic Director and open up a spot. ( That is if he’s even interested in that job )

  10. WILDCATS1968
    6:40 pm August 26, 2020 Permalink

    Do some of you not understand ? NO coach can be on the road, it doesn’t matter what title Jai has, if he was assistant head coach, he still can’t go on the road. Cal can’t goon the road. We are not losing a year.

  11. Hot Stuff Eddie Gilbert
    3:45 pm August 31, 2020 Permalink

    Never had a clue this guy was even a coach until word got out that we were trying to get him. Figured he was overseas playing ball.