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Calipari had likely illegal contact before critique of NCAA rules

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

In the first week of August, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari gave a radio interview in which he appeared to take a pot shot at Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose questionable contact with a prospect had been reported by Prep Rally and then other sources just days earlier. Though Calipari denied that his "Other guys can make phone calls and it's not that big a deal," comment was in reference to Krzyzewski and his scholarship offer to Alex Poythress, few seemed to believe him.

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Kentucky coach John Calipari at the ScoutsFocus Super 60 event

Kentucky coach John Calipari at the ScoutsFocus Super 60 event

Well, if Calipari was trying to make light of Krzyzewski's teflon reputation, such criticisms will seem even more withering this week after it emerged that Calipari appears to be guilty of an even more egregious contact violation just weeks earlier in July. What makes the near-certain violation all the more shocking is the recipient of Calipari's adoration: A rising junior prospect who almost certainly won't reach the pinnacle of recruits who are likely to attend Kentucky.

The player in question is Aiken (S.C.) High center Austin Kyles, a 16-year-old dual citizenship hoopster who happens to be en route to play for his father's native New Zealand junior national team over the forthcoming weekend. Kyles is an impressive player -- he's nearly 6-foot-7 already and is surprisingly strong with a wide frame -- but no one would watch him play and target him as a future Kentucky Wildcat. Rather, he appears to be a good fit for a team with a more standardized system of offensive motion that could take advantage of his incredibly reliable 12-foot jumper.

Yet that disconnect from Calipari's direct recruiting interest didn't keep him from walking over and shaking Kyles' hand during the ScoutsFocus Super 60 Showcase at Butler High School in Augusta, Ga. on July 15. The picture of Calipari you see above was during Kyles' most impressive performance at the event. More poignantly, the showcase is smack dab in the middle of the NCAA's no-contact period, and Prep Rally can confirm that the handshake and conversation happened because both Kyles and his father, Dr. Tony Kyles (who was at the camp) confirmed that it occurred.

"After the game, Calipari shook his hand and said, 'Great game,'" Dr. Kyles told Prep Rally. "I think he was just acknowledging, 'Hey, this kid is holding down my senior.'"

Austin Kyles also confirmed that the handshake occurred to a Prep Rally source who could only comment on the condition of anonymity. Calipari's handshake and brief conversation with Kyles was first reported by the Aiken Standard, though the newspaper misattributed the tournament at which it occurred (the Standard said that it came at the Peach State Summer Showcase, though Kyles or Calipari was not in attendance at that event, which occurred at the same time as the Super 60 Showcase).

While a number of NCAA bylaws directly spell out how Calipari's contact was impermissible, the most direct explanation of his rule violation comes in bylaw 13.02.4, as spelled out below.

Any face-to-face contact by a Division I coach will constitute an impermissible contact during the July evaluation period if the encounter is prearranged or if the coach positions himself in a location where contact is possible (e.g., near gym entrances, designated paths for prospects, etc.).  A coach, who is innocently approached by a prospect, parent or someone associated with the prospect, will not be charged with a violation of the contact rule provided the encounter is not prearranged, the coach does not engage in any dialogue in excess of a greeting and the coach takes appropriate steps to immediately end the encounter.

Division I coaches are expected to sit in designated sections reserved for NCAA coaches.  Any face-to-face  encounter that occurs after a coach has placed himself in a location where contact with a prospect is possible will be deemed to be an impermissible contact or "bump" regardless of whether conversation occurs.

As both Dr. Kyles and Austin Kyles indicated that Calipari was the one who sought out the prospect, it would seem unlikely that Calipari could claim that Kyles had directly searched him out for a conversation, which would be the only way his conversation would not be a violation. Whether or not a handshake would be interpreted similarly is a matter for interpretation as well, though it seems highly unlikely that such physical contact could be brushed off as anything less than an impermissable "bump" ... at the very least.

University of Ketucky Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations DeWayne Peevy told Prep Rally on Friday that the university planned to fully investigate the incident internally.

"The University of Kentucky considers all compliance inquiries with great importance," Peevy told Prep Rally via email. "Our men's basketball staff is very knowledgeable in regards to NCAA rules and regulations and we will promptly look into this matter."

The senior attributed to Calipari by Dr. Kyles in his comments above is Devonta Pollard, an uncommitted small forward who has expressed significant interest in attending Kentucky and playing for Calipari. In a game at the Super Showcase, Austin Kyles limited Pollard's productivity inside, as well as the offensive game of Gavin Ware, a rising senior Mississippi State commit who was frustrated inside throughout the game by Kyles' aggressive defense.

You can see footage of Kyles' impressive defensive performance in that game above.

Naturally, Calipari's likely violation would be a minor one; after all most contact violations in July don't land significant bans or other sanctions, and some even go unpunished (Krzyzewski has yet to hear from the NCAA regarding his questionably-timed scholarship offer to Poythress). Still, the fact that he made physical contact with a recruit while he knew full well that he was not allowed to even talk to him is puzzling at best, and flaunts disobedience at worst (which we can hope it was not).

Add in the fact that other major coaches were at the event -- including representatives from Georgetown, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Missouri, to name a few -- and that they avoided any illegal contact with recruits, and Calipari's attempt to lightheartedly (and arguably good-naturedly) compliment Kyles' game seems all the more unfair.

Regardless of what happens with Calipari, none of this should take anything away from Kyles' performance. Despite marginal statistics in his first two seasons at Aiken High, the young prospect seems to be emerging in all the right places, playing up to the competition at summer tournaments and launching an early junior international career with New Zealand.

"[Austin Kyles is] a junior so a few schools have let him know that they're watching him," Dr. Kyles told Prep Rally. "He's averaging a lot of points in YBLA but then at the high school level he doesn't get the ball as much. But he's 6-foot-7 with an 80-inch wingspan, so he has a good body for the post.

"Austin's strongest position is being strong inside. [Pollard and Ware were] big kids, too. You've got a lot of guys on the AAU circuit who are 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7. Austin said, 'Dad, some of these kids are great players, but they're soft.' He'll push the line a little bit, but then they get out of their own game."

Kyles has yet to get out of his own defensive game in larger tournaments, and that's a testament to his potential. Still, he seems  some way from being considered a recruit in Kentucky's echelon, a factor which makes the seemingly illegal contact Kentucky's coach made with him all the more puzzling.

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