John Calipari finally got his national championship last month with the help of an immensely skilled group of underclassmen who helped prove that talent can trump experience in the NCAA tournament.
Kentucky’s run also further cemented Calipari’s status as one of the sport’s best recruiters. And only days after the Wildcats cut down the nets in New Orleans, he added another feather to his recruiting cap by landing top prospect Nerlens Noel.
But now the NCAA is showing interest in Noel. The New York Times reported that two NCAA enforcement staff members travelled to Everett, Mass., this week to meet with Everett High principal Louis Baldi. Noel attended the school for two years before moving to the Tilton School in New Hampshire.
The nature of the NCAA’s inquiry is unclear, but with Noel making Kentucky a potential favorite to repeat as national champions and a pair of vacated Final Four appearances already on John Calipari’s resume, this is a situation that bears monitoring.
Noel, a 6-10 forward/center is expected to fill the void left by freshman Anthony Davis whose shot-blocking prowess, rebounding and scoring in the paint helped make Kentucky a dominant force on both ends of the floor. Davis is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
Baldi told the Times that he met with the investigators for 75 minutes but that they “didn’t ask me any investigative-type questions.”
A person briefed on the inquiry said the officials planned to look into Noel’s relationship with former Providence assistant coach Chris Driscoll and Errol Randolph, a former Everett High substitute teacher, according to the Times report. Noel’s finances are also reportedly of interest to the NCAA. Noel took unofficial visits to both Kentucky and Louisville on flights not paid for by the schools.
Tilton headmaster Jim Clements told the Times he has not been contacted by the NCAA, but said that he expected Noel to graduate next week. He will take additional course work this summer to help his academic qualifications.
Last Friday Kentucky announced it had given Calipari an 8.3 percent raise for the remaining seven years on his contract, bringing the total worth of his deal to $36.5 million. The Wildcats also gave multi-year extensions to three assistant coaches.
In addition to Noel, Kentucky’s incoming freshman class includes five-star small forward Alex Poythress, five-star shooting guard Archie Goodwin and four-star center Willie Cauley (ratings from Scout.com). That group will be charged with replacing the production lost when Davis and fellow underclassmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb all declared for the NBA draft.