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When SMU took a boom-or-bust gamble coaxing Larry Brown back to college basketball three years ago, the splashy hire came with a few glaring risks.
The first was that he'd be successful recruiting despite not having coached in college for nearly a quarter century. The second was that he'd stay in Dallas long enough to bring respectability to a program that hadn't made the NCAA tournament since 1993. And the third was that whatever success he enjoyed would not be tarnished by NCAA violations like the ones that followed his tenures at UCLA and Kansas.
Brown quickly validated SMU's decision by massively upgrading the roster and nudging the program toward national relevance, but this week brought bad news that will force the Mustangs to reassess tethering their fate to the 74-year-old hall of fame coach. ESPN.com reported Friday that SMU has received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA that includes accusations of academic improprieties within Brown's program.
Confirmation of an NCAA investigation into SMU basketball comes at the end of a tumultuous week for the Mustangs.
Xavier transfer Justin Martin announced last weekend he was leaving the program and turning pro, an oddly timed decision that suggested he had no choice but to leave. Assistant coach and chief recruiter Ulric Maligi abruptly took an indefinite leave of absence for undisclosed reasons days later. And on Friday came word that former McDonald's All-American Keith Frazier will be academically ineligible for the rest of the season unless the Mustangs win an against-the-odds last-ditch appeal.
The ESPN.com report provided clarity on several of those decisions. Martin reportedly was academically ineligible to play spring semester and NCAA investigators reportedly were looking into Maligi's involvement with Frazier before he arrived at SMU.
In Jan. 2014, Fort Worth-based TV station WFAA reported the Dallas Independent School district had investigated the validity of Frazier's transcript from his senior year at Kimball High School. The investigation revealed Frazier had at least one failing grade changed to a passing one in order to graduate and raised questions about the involvement of SMU coaches.
This week's issues aren't the only ones that have plagued SMU this season. Elite point guard prospect Emmanuel Mudiay turned pro amid eligibility concerns this past summer and top big man Markus Kennedy was ruled academically ineligible for the fall semester.
The spate of academic issues raises the question of whether Brown's success at SMU is worth the negative attention this will surely bring.
SMU advanced to the NIT title game last March after being one of the NCAA tournament selection committee's final at-large snubs. The Mustangs (13-4, 4-1) are on pace to contend for an NCAA bid again this March, though the loss of Frazier and Martin certainly cuts into their depth at wing.
Those accomplishments are significant considering the state of the SMU program prior to Brown's arrival. The Mustangs hadn't even reached an NIT since 2000 and finished .500 or below in Conference USA in each of previous coach Matt Doherty's six seasons.
SMU brought in Brown to coincide with its move to the higher-profile American Athletic Conference. The attention-grabbing hire has produced two predictable outcomes: Newfound relevance and newfound NCAA trouble.
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