Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
By JOSH NEWMANSpecial to ZAGSBLOGNEW YORK – As the NCAA continues to investigate whether or not University of Texas sophomore sensation Myck Kabongo received impermissable benefits during the offseason, his best friend and the man in the middle of it all, Tristan Thompson, has no choice but to sit idly by, unable to help as Kabongo has already missed the Longhorns’ first two games.
“It’s definitely sad not having your best friend not be able to start his college season when everyone else is starting to play,” Thompson said on Tuesday evening before his Cleveland Cavaliers took on the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. “He’s worked so hard this summer to have a phenomenal sophomore year and it’s sad to not see him play.”
The point of contention here is whether or not Thompson paying for a flight for Kabongo to come to Cleveland earlier this year qualifies as impermissable benefits. Thompson and Kabongo have been friends since they were kids growing up in Toronto. They also played high school basketball together in the United States at perennial national powers St. Benedict’s Prep and Findlay Prep.
Thompson has told the NCAA he paid for the flight, but was reimbursed by Kabongo’s brother. Further complicating matters is a Yahoo! Sports report, which said the NCAA investigation involves whether or not Rich Paul, who lives in Cleveland and counts Thompson and LeBron James among his clients, provided improper benefits to Kabongo.
Thompson has no way of knowing when the NCAA will release its decision or what that decision will be, but he would like to think it will be sooner than later.
“They wanna keep it private, so we have to respect that,” Thompson said. “I don’t feel like it will be a situation like (former Kentucky forward Enes) Kanter or other guys where they miss a significant amount of time. Maybe a game, another two games. I’m not sure, but I think he’ll be playing soon.”
Thompson was referencing Kanter, a 6-foot-11 Utah Jazz forward, who was ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA after receiving approximately $33,000 from Euroleague and Turkish power Fenerbahçe Ülker in excess benefits.
The NCAA ruled that this amount was above and beyond what was considered acceptable and later rejected Kentucky’s appeal.
As a freshman, Kabongo started 34 games for Texas last season. He was third on the team in scoring with 9.6 points per game and led the Longhorns with 5.2 assists a game. He has been projected as a possible first-round 2013 draft pick.
Kabongo has missed a 55-53 win over Fresno State on Friday and a 69-46 win over Coppin State on Monday. The Longhorns are off until Nov. 19 when they begin play at the Maui Invitational against host Chaminade.
“He’s my best friend,” Thompson said. “There is an understanding we had a prior relationship before even going to college. We’ve been friends since we were little. I hope they understand I just got him a flight. They just want to make sure I didn’t give him an excessive amount of money, or that anything came from an agent through me. I let them know it’s my friend, we have a relationship and I think they understand.”
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