One of the most intriguing aspects of UTEP's decision to hire Tim Floyd this spring was seeing if the NCAA's recent investigation into his recruiting practices at USC would cause him to adopt a more conservative approach.
We already have our answer. It's a resounding no.
Floyd did not break any NCAA rules last week by hiring Heat Academy coach Jason Niblett as an assistant, but the move stomps all over the spirit of a new piece of legislation designed to discourage package deals in recruiting. Maybe Niblett turns out to be a great addition at UTEP, but it's surely not a coincidence Floyd hired him two months after a pair of Heat players, Michael Haynes and Desmond Lee, signed in the spring.
Under a new NCAA rule that went into effect earlier this year, "an institution shall not employ an individual associated with a prospective student-athlete in any athletics department noncoaching staff position." Niblett's hire doesn't violate that rule since he will be a full-fledged assistant coach rather than a director of basketball operations or video coordinator, yet this is still exactly the sort of hire-me-get-him scenario the NCAA sought to outlaw.
In an interview with the Martinsvile Bulletin on Thursday, Niblett insists that neither Haynes nor Lee knew there was even a possibility of him joining them at UTEP until after they signed. Of course, that would be a lot easier to believe if you're willing to disregard that Floyd discussed hiring Niblett as early as April and that he has a long history of building programs via similar package deals.
When Floyd began at USC in 2005, he hired College of Southern Idaho coach Gib Arnold as an assistant in April and then added two of his better former players, Shaun Davis and Abdoulaye Ndiaye, a few weeks later. Then in August 2005, Floyd hired former Syracuse standout Rudy Hackett in August as strength and conditioning coach and then received a commitment weeks later from his son, highly touted junior guard Daniel Hackett.
Again neither hire broke any NCAA rules. Again both hires suggest Floyd takes advantage of any loophole he finds.
It's still difficult to believe that Floyd escaped further penalty from the NCAA in the O.J. Mayo investigation considering in some ways his lack of attentiveness was more egregious than the football staff's concerning Reggie Bush. As ESPN.com's Pat Forde wrote last month:
1. Not a soul in basketball believed Mayo was an amateur coming out of high school.
2. Mayo's "recruitment" consisted of a third party with an NCAA rap sheet showing up and basically offering the kid's services to the school.
3. USC already should have been on red alert after the Bush allegations.
No matter what you think of Floyd's methods, you can't question his track record as a program builder. He's enjoyed success at Idaho, New Orleans, Iowa State and USC, four schools that are hardly traditional powers in college basketball.
With four-star center Rashanti Harris joining Haynes and Lee in Floyd's first recruiting class and guard Randy Culpepper still in the fold, a top-three finish in Conference USA next season for UTEP is certainly not out of the question.
The Miners will thrive under Floyd as long as they can stomach his tactics.
(Thanks, Dan Wolken)