The Memphis/Calipari/Rose Brouhaha: Was It Inevitable?

During his one year in Memphis, Derrick Rose was renowned for his sweet tooth as much as he was his otherworldly skills on the basketball court.

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As speculation grows about Rose's possibly having cheated on his SAT before arriving in Memphis -- speculation fueled by an NCAA investigation made public last week -- the thrills of recent Memphis Tiger basketball history are beginning to look like a junk-food binge on the part of Tiger Nation. As good as it may have tasted going down, it looks like an emergency trip to the bathroom may be imminent.

As dramatic as the news may be -- centered as it is around the Tigers' star of stars from a 38-win team that came a free throw short of a national title -- those surprised at the development have consumed more Kool-Aid than they should. Because this boils down to a central debate in modern college basketball: Can a young man who plays a single season of college basketball as merely a bridge to the NBA be considered a student-athlete?

While the likes of Dajuan Wagner, Shawne Williams, Tyreke Evans, and Rose are not cheating the University of Memphis by the letter of the law when they enroll for what amounts to a warm-up act for their pro careers, they are certainly cheating the spirit of the institution of higher learning they represent. Such manipulation has essentially been mandated by the NBA, with its recent adoption of an age requirement for potential draftees. But it remains the responsibility of individual basketball programs -- and above them, individual colleges -- to decide whether or not to play gamesmanship with the definition of "student-athlete."

However deep your rooting interest may be in Tiger basketball, could you have doubted corners were cut to accommodate the one-year wonders who played such an integral role in John Calipari's Tiger reign? Fair or unfair, Evans didn't lose any sleep last winter writing papers or researching a presentation. The system being played must be accepted or rejected on your own terms. But to be surprised at a cut corner finally catching up with a player and the program? A high school friend -- from Vermont, well beyond Tiger Country as we know it -- wrote me last week and described the NCAA's investigation of a former Calipari program as "inevitable." And it's the word I keep returning to as I reflect on the profound -- beyond credulity? -- rise of Memphis basketball over the last nine years. * What I do find befuddling is the timeline of events. And this goes beyond the four-month gap between the time the university was notified of the NCAA's concerns and the information going public. The SAT in question had to have been taken no later than the spring or summer of 2007. So a year and a half goes by before the NCAA calls into question that test? Remember the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin: "Three men may keep a secret, if two of them are dead."

It has the stench of a cover-up, one where information was withheld just long enough for the two figures closest to the flame -- Derrick Rose and John Calipari -- to have Memphis comfortably in their rearview. As for Franklin's rule, you have to assume this was more than a two-man game between Rose and his test-taking proxy. With the number of handlers Rose has had since he was in middle school -- primarily his older brothers -- this little secret was dancing in the heads of grown men who knew better. * In the October 2000 issue of MEMPHIS magazine -- a few weeks before Calipari coached his first game in Memphis -- the late, great Memphis Flyer editor Dennis Freeland wrote the following: "Calipari has brought his game to Memphis, a town that knows a little about charisma. It also knows about con artists, having seen its share of both. That's the Calipari conundrum: Is he smooth or is he slick? And, if he wins enough basketball games, will it even matter?"

You decide.

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