NCAA probe news surfaces as Coastal Carolina clinches Big South

With Liberty's 56-51 loss at Winthrop on Thursday night, Coastal Carolina clinched the Big South regular season title and the right to host the league's upcoming tournament.

It was really the day's only piece of positive PR for the Chanticleers.

Pete Thamel of the New York Times uncovered the reason behind the suspension of leading scorer Desmond Holloway, who has sat out the team's last two games. The 6-foot-3 junior is at the center of an investigation being conducted by the NCAA enforcement staff.

According to the story, the roots of the investigation stem from fourth-year coach Cliff Ellis's overhaul of the roster from last season's team that went 28-7, but lost in the Big South tourney title game.

Thamel's piece included some scathing comments from Marcus Macellari, whose scholarship was revoked following the 2009-10 campaign after Ellis over-recruited. Macellari was pushed out of the program along with two other players to make room for a bevy of junior college prospects who were brought in, including Holloway.

He filed a formal complaint to the university, citing that players received illegal benefits. From there came an internal investigation, and now a full on probe by the NCAA.

"I told her that my scholarship wouldn't have been revoked if these players hadn't been bribed to come here and offered unfair things," Macellari told the Times of his conversation with an NCAA enforcement official. "These players were bribed to come here to take my spot.

"It's a lower caliber of character for the price of winning."

Macellari added in his 45-minute meeting with the NCAA that Holloway received a "care package full of stuff."

"Coach Ellis has a reputation for giving money, and I really honestly don't think Des would have come here if he wasn't getting special stuff," Macellari added.

Macellari isn't wrong about Ellis's past.

Despite major success at both stops, the 65-year-old saw two of his previous programs — Clemson and Auburn — placed on two years' probation each. Ellis pointed out several times to Thamel that he was never directly implicated in the cases, but rather his assistants were.

Still, he was there, and that likely hasn't been forgotten by the NCAA, who you'd have to assume will be as thorough as humanly possible on this one.

It's a risk that is always run by relying on junior college transfers to take a program to the next level. In the story, first-year Coastal Carolina athletic director Hunter Yurachek said that he's discussed changing the program's recruiting philosophy with Ellis.

"There's a reason they went to junior college," Yurachek told Thamel. "From an academic standpoint, we don't have a staff the size of ACC or SEC schools, so we can't handle a large number of at-risk student-athletes."

On top of losing Holloway, who is averaging 18.5 points per game, Ellis booted talented senior South Carolina transfer Mike Holmes for disciplinary reasons in January. Starting point guard Kierre Greenwood is also out for the year with a knee injury, and the Chanticleers are left with seven scholarship players and eight total at the moment.

Ellis's team made a name for itself this season by winning 22 straight games, and enters its regular season finale on Saturday at Charleston Southern at 25-4 overall and 15-2 in the league.

Despite their top seed and home court advantage, at this point, winning the Big South tourney would be an against-all-odds feat.

"I keep saying my prayers that those eight guys will stay healthy," Yurachek said. "It's not where we'd prefer to be."

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for the Las Vegas Sun. Read his Rebels coverage and follow him on Twitter.

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