STORRS, Conn. -The Connecticut men's basketball team is playing in a Sweet 16 game Thursday night in the NCAA tournament, but Wednesday things took on a decidedly sour tone off the court.
Coach Jim Calhoun was answering questions about a Yahoo Sports report that said his program broke NCAA rules in recruiting Nate Miles. The story, posted early Wednesday, reported that former UConn team manager Josh Nochimson represented Miles as an agent and that former UConn assistant coach Tom Moore was aware of the relationship.
The story also cited phone records attained through the Freedom of Information Act that showed five UConn coaches called Nochimson and text-messaged him at least 1,565 times during a nearly two-year period before and after Miles' recruitment in 2006 and early 2007. Calhoun had 16 of those communications, Yahoo reported.
Miles, a 6-foot-7 guard from Toledo, Ohio, was expelled by UConn on Oct. 2 amid allegations that he abused a female student. A restraining order was issued Sept. 22, and Miles was arrested for allegedly calling the woman 16 minutes later. He never played a game for UConn and has since enrolled at Southern Idaho, a junior college.
The university would not say whether it has launched an internal investigation but did say in the statement that it "takes very seriously its responsibilities of NCAA membership and will do all that is expected to follow up on any information related to possible NCAA rules violations."
UConn also would not say whether it was in contact with the NCAA or whether a system exists to monitor coaches' calls to recruits. That could be an issue with the NCAA, which states that a school must demonstrate "institutional control." The NCAA also states that it expects the head coach of a program to promote an atmosphere of compliance.
Stacey Osburn, spokeswoman for the NCAA infractions committee, said the NCAA would not address the allegations.
"We can't comment on current, pending or potential investigations." Osburn said.
Joe Linta, a sports agent from Branford, Conn., assessed the situation this way: "If it's a phone call violation, I think it will only be a slap on the wrist. If there is an infiltration with an agent who was involved in the program and is doing illegal things, then it becomes very serious."
UConn has retained the Kansas office of the law firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King, which specializes in NCAA issues. Attorneys Richard Evrard, Stephen Morgan and Michael Glazier worked for the NCAA before going into private practice, and they are often retained by schools under investigation by the NCAA.
Reached at his office, Glazier said he was unable to comment on UConn or how the NCAA might handle an investigation of the allegations. UConn has been represented by Evrard in past issues with the NCAA.
The most recent high-profile case involving improper contact with recruits is the case of former Oklahoma and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson. Sampson and his staff made more than 500 improper calls to 17 recruits over a five-year period at Oklahoma, leading to Sampson being barred in 2006 from calling recruits or recruiting off-campus for one year. The university also issued self-imposed sanctions, including scholarship reductions and fewer visits to campus by prospective players. Sampson then was caught at Indiana making improper calls. He no longer coaches in college.
"Major differences exist," said New Haven, Conn., attorney and sport law expert Daniel Fitzpatrick of Updike, Kelly & Spellcy, P.C. "Indiana hired a coach, Kelvin Sampson, who was on probation with the NCAA for violations. Thus, one could argue that Indiana had a heightened duty to monitor Sampson and the basketball program at large. For UConn, there have been no prior issues involving this conduct."
Of the many things the NCAA will consider when determining punishment is did the institution come forward and notify the NCAA of potential wrong-doing. Yahoo approached UConn for phone records in January and according to its story received documents 10 days ago. It is not known whether UConn alerted the NCAA that there might be a problem. The NCAA also weighs whether the institution has had violations. UConn does not have major violations; the most notable incident came in January 1997, when it was reported that players Rickey Moore and Kirk King received airline tickets in October 1995. That was considered a minor violation.However, the calls were just part of the story. Miles' relationship with Nochimson is problematic for UConn, especially because Moore was aware of the association.
ESPN.com also reported Nochimson has been seen with UConn freshman Ater Majok, a 6-feet-10 freshman who will be eligible to play for the Huskies next year. The site reported that Nochimson helped the Kentucky Derby Festival All-Star Game in Louisville land Majok and was with Majok at the April 19 game.Nochimson was the student manager for UConn in the late 1990s. He followed Richard Hamilton to the NBA as he began a career as an agent. Last year, he was accused of bilking as much as $500,000 from Hamilton.
According to the Yahoo story, Nochimson met Miles at a high school tournament in Chicago on Nov. 11, 2006. Moore and Nochimson talked at the tournament, and the UConn assistant told the former student manager that he was there to watch Miles.
Phone records show Moore trade text messages with both Miles and Nochimson on Nov. 11 and 12, 2006, and Miles gave UConn an oral commitment a week later. The story also says that between 2006 and 2008, Nochimson provided lodging, transportation, restaurant meals and representation for Miles.