Whether true or not, there are some strong accusations out there about Mohamed Bamba, an incoming college freshman and projected top-five draft pick next summer, who came very close to signing with the University of Kentucky this past spring.
As you’ve probably heard by now, Bamba’s older brother, Ibrahim Johnson, recorded a 22-minute long video on Facebook Live, essentially saying Bamba had received impermissible benefits before enrolling in college. Johnson alleged the benefits, mostly in the form of cash and gifts, came from a financial advisor who has long been considered Bamba’s mentor.
“He’s not going to play this year in the NCAA because I already reported him to the NCAA and I’m already going to meet with the NCAA,” said Johnson. “He’s not going to play this year. I’m not going to lie to you. I exposed that kid.”
Reports have since said the relationship between Bamba and the financial advisor in question, Greer Love, was already cleared and vetted by the NCAA. A Wednesday statement from the University of Texas read, “The NCAA has not informed us of any pending issues or eligibility concerns at this time regarding Mo.”
Only time will tell if Johnson’s allegations will amount to anything or have any effect on Bamba’s eligibility this fall. Maybe the NCAA will take a closer look at the relationship with Greer, maybe it won’t. But one thing I think Kentucky fans agree on right now is that, substantial or not, the allegations are a headache we are happy to avoid. If this story goes on into the summer and that black cloud floats over the top of Bamba’s head, we’ll look back at his May 18th announcement as a blessing in disguise.
And it’s not Calipari’s first blessing in disguise. He has dodged several bullets in recruiting at UK, whether intentional or not (and mostly not), going all the way back to his second class.
Back in 2009, Calipari and his staff had eyes on the No. 1 overall player in America, a point guard named Josh Selby. Jeff Goodman reported Kentucky was the favorite for Selby after Selby backed out of his commitment to Tennessee in the summer before his senior season of high school. Kentucky recruited him hard that fall, but in the end, Calipari signed Brandon Knight, the nation’s third-ranked point guard behind Selby and Kyrie Irving.
Selby went on to sign with Kansas, and shortly after he became a Jayhawk, a report surfaced stating the NCAA had been investigating him for months and his amateur status was in question. He eventually received a nine-game suspension to start his college career and was ordered to pay $4,607.58, the total of his “improper benefits,” to charity.
Then immediately after his freshman season ended with a loss to No. 11 seed VCU in the NCAA tournament, Selby left Kansas for Las Vegas to prepare for the NBA draft without attending classes in the spring semester. Meanwhile, Knight became one of the most beloved and successful players of the Calipari era at Kentucky.
Bullet No. 2 came in 2012 when Calipari lost the No. 1 overall recruit, Shabazz Muhammad, to UCLA. Muhammad was exactly what Calipari wanted: a young scoring machine with a veteran physique and all of the tools to be a superstar on the wing. Cal wanted him badly and the fans did, too; but the chips didn’t fall in Big Blue Nation’s favor, so we thought at the time.
Muhammad’s recruitment would later prove to be a crisis averted when the NCAA ruled Muhammad ineligible right before the Bruins’ 2012—13 season opener due to alleged violations involving the NCAA’s amateurism rules. It was discovered Muhammad had received benefits for travel expenses and lodging from a family friend, which kept him out of his first three college games, until UCLA’s appeal of the decision got him reinstated.
Then toward the end of Muhammad’s freshman season, news broke that he and his family had been lying about his age to gain a competitive edge on his classmates. Muhammad’s second off-the-court scandal in one season likely played a role in his horrible performance in his final college game, a 20-point loss to No. 11 seed Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Thus Muhammad’s one season of college basketball, one that was supposed to rival that of Anthony Davis the year before, never met expectations.
The biggest of bullets, however, was dodged in August of 2013 when Calipari lost out on his top point guard target, Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay was the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2014 and Calipari was enamored with his game. Cal put the full-court press on him throughout his recruitment and based Kentucky’s whole recruiting strategy around the assumption he would pick UK in the end, but Mudiay shocked the world with a surprise decision to attend SMU, of all places. SMU hadn’t made an NCAA tournament since three years before Mudiay was born.
But it was too good to be true for SMU and another blessing in disguise for Calipari and Kentucky, because Mudiay backed out of his commitment and bolted overseas to play professionally. The sudden change of heart came when concerns over his two years at Prime Prep Academy in Texas put his college basketball status in question, and there were reports that the NCAA was about to drop the hammer on his eligibility. We never found out either way because Mudiay signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. The same scenario would’ve happened had he picked Kentucky instead of SMU.
That brings us to the silver lining in the Mudiay bullet. When Mudiay dropped Kentucky for SMU, Calipari fell back on his backup plan: a 5-foot-8 point guard out of Chicago named Tyler Ulis. I don’t think I need to tell you how he panned out in Lexington.
So going back to where we started with this week’s Bamba allegations, maybe Bamba’s commitment to Texas was a blessing in disguise. For his sake, I hope this blows over and he has a great season as a Longhorn and goes on to make millions in the NBA. But if the Bamba ship sinks and the story gets messy, John Calipari will have, once again, dodged a bullet.