NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As expected, the hot-button topic at Southeastern Conference media days Wednesday was the FBI investigation into a pay-for-play scandal that rocked the college basketball world last month.
Many of the 14 men’s coaches tried to steer clear of the subject, and some bristled when asked about the scandal or whether their schools had been contacted by the FBI after its initial findings resulted in bribery and corruption charges for 10 men — including four assistant coaches, Auburn's Chuck Person among them.
But Texas A&M coach and Metairie native Billy Kennedy, who recently said there was a “lot of slime in our game,” didn’t exactly soften his stance Wednesday.
“I’d probably change my choice of words to 'surprised' that the FBI would be involved in something like this,” Kennedy said. “But I’m not surprised that things have gone on in grassroots basketball and college basketball recruiting.
“I was surprised the head coaches don’t claim to be involved and know what’s going on. It made me dang sure that I need to know what’s going on in my program.”
Like most of the coaches Wednesday, LSU coach Will Wade said his school hasn’t been contacted by the FBI regarding the ongoing investigation.
“People have forgotten a lot of families are involved,” he said. “Whatever happened happened, but I don’t think anybody knew they were breaking federal laws and the federal government was going to get involved.
“Anytime there’s a negative, I always try to flip it into a positive, and now you hope maybe it changes the structure … and it changes the way we do things in college basketball in terms of the recruiting model so we don’t get in this situation again.”
Wade, a Nashville native, was able to spend some time Wednesday with his parents, Frank and Sissy, before three hours of media obligations at his first SEC media days.
Wade grew up about 20 minutes from the downtown area and graduated from Franklin Road Academy, where his now-retired mother was the principal.
“I got to see my parents, so that was nice,” Wade said. “It’s also great to see what they’re doing here downtown. None of these high-rise buildings were here when I was still living here. It’s fun to come back; my parents and a lot of friends are still here.”
Missouri freshman Michael Porter, Jr., who tied for SEC preseason player of the year honors, didn’t have to be reminded that the past two overall No. 1 NBA draft picks didn’t play in the NCAA tournament.
Porter, a 6-foot-10 forward, is being projected on most mock drafts as the top pick in 2018. LSU’s Ben Simmons (2016) and Washington’s Markelle Fultz (2017) didn’t reach the postseason in their only collegiate seasons.
“I get that question a lot, and I answer it the same way: I feel like we’re more well-rounded,” Porter said. “We have a ton of supporting cast, and I don’t feel pressure on my shoulders.”
Missouri, which finished last in the league the past two seasons, was picked fifth in the SEC preseason media poll. Porter said if they make the NCAA tournament, it won’t be just because of him.
“It’ll be because of our whole team,” he said. “We have a ton of talent.”
‘The Dean’ is in
Ole Miss’ Andy Kennedy, the dean of SEC coaches with 11 seasons at the school, was reminded Wednesday that half the league members — Alabama, Florida, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt — have had to hire a new basketball coach in the past three seasons.
“Ole Miss hasn’t yet, have they?” Kennedy deadpanned as reporters chuckled. “In fact, I would like you guys to refer to me as ‘The Dean.’ My mother is so proud now that I’m finally a dean.”
When February comes
Despite coming off a 22-win campaign, Ole Miss has been tabbed for a 10th-place finish this season, although Kennedy isn’t exactly fretting over it.
“I don’t lose sleep over preseason rankings,” he said. “I like my team. But like my wife says every year, ‘You always like your team in October … get back to me in February.’”