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News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)

 

A shockwave went through college basketball this week, and despite the denials from some of the biggest names in the sport, it's worse than we thought it was.

The corruption trial in Manhattan has rolled back the covers of deception within college basketball, revealing a widespread disease that includes everybody, from the coaches and schools themselves right down to the street peddlers and the shoe salesmen, all involved in one fashion or another in what is an ugly revelation.

College basketball, at the highest levels of the game, is dirty.

A whirlwind of news unfolded slowly as the trial exposed deals involving some of the biggest names in the sport at some of the most successful programs in the sport. And it hit home right here in North Carolina.

That flew in the face of what Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski and even High Point's Tubby Smith said in recent days.

The corruption is real. It is deep. And it threatens to rip the very fabric of the game before our very eyes.

All we have to do is open them, which is something our old-school coaches don't seem to want to do.

Krzyzewski said on Monday that he's not even paying attention to the "blip" that is playing out in an FBI investigation. By the end of the week Zion Williamson, one of his prize recruits, was in the cross-hairs of the evidence.

Williams swore he knew nothing of the corruption in the grassroots feeder system where street agents and bagmen lurk, though an Inside Carolina interview with recruit Nassir Little's father midweek revealed that Williams, his staff and the school were monitoring a situation involving Little's AAU coach. So he knows what's out there.

Smith ended up in High Point because he refused to play the dirty game in Memphis where boosters and a local AAU pipeline have long tainted that program. He suggested that the corruption can seep into the cleanest programs.

"When I run a program we run the program the right way," he said. "Having said that, in every organization there are going to be some issues you have to deal with. Coaches are going to take shortcuts sometimes."

And sometimes, they're going to get on the phone and call shoe dealers and flesh peddlers and beg for elite basketball players.

Orlando Early was on N.C. State's bench under Mark Gottfried. We heard this week that he personally accepted $40,000 in a slush payment from a shoe agent to be delivered to the family of prize recruit Dennis Smith Jr.

Louisville's name has came up again, of course. And this time the tales involving Rick Pitino and assistant coach Kenny Johnson included cash payments and a possible $100,000 recruit in Brian Bowen Jr., who was considering going to State at one point.

Miami, Kansas, Arizona, Auburn, LSU, DePaul, Oregon, Creighton, Oklahoma State, Washington. The list of schools involved in this cesspool is still growing.

And the finger-pointing has started, just as the FBI knew it would. The rats are jumping off the ship now, and the ship is about to hit the fan. There are two more trials to come. There are wiretaps yet to be released. There are players still in high school who now suddenly are thinking maybe college isn't such a clean and classy environment.

The NBA announced this week that it would begin a program of scouting and choosing the most elite high schoolers in the country and pay them $125,000 in salary to play one year in the G League instead of one year at Duke or Kentucky or Kansas or Louisville or North Carolina.

And you can bet that's where they're all looking to land for a one-year vacation from reality while training for the NBA Draft. At some of the schools, $125,000 might be a paycut. This is the NBA's solution to cleaning up the grassroots corruption in basketball, an idea Williams scoffed at when asked if the NBA could figure out what to do about the cancer that is the current basketball feeder program.

"You can't figure it out,"Williams said. "I don't care how smart you think you are. You aren't going to figure it out."

You can start weeding out the bad guys though. You can make sure those caught up in this and future scandals never coach again, never play again, never get close to programs or high schools or AAU teams again.

Williams, Krzyzewski and Smith are honest coaches. And they can say they're not aware of what's going on and they can say they run clean programs and they can say they're not paying attention to the sordid tales coming from the FBI investigation.

But the game they'll soon be leaving has changed. Yes, it's a wonderful game that does a lot of good for a lot of people. Still, the money has corrupted it even if most of our old-school coaches have stayed above the corruption.

Maybe it's time we stopped asking the old guys what they think.

"Mike and Roy and I have been in it a long time," Smith said. "We've seen some changes. Basketball is in great shape."

"That world is a world I am not familiar with," Williams said.

"I think it's actually pretty clean," Krzyzewski said.

Yeah, we need to stop asking the old-school guys to comment on the state of the game. The world they're not familiar with has passed them by. Which is probably a good thing, assuming anything good will come out of all of this.

Contact Ed Hardin at 336-373-7069, and follow @Ed_Hardin on Twitter.

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