The NCAA is looking into the possibility that Rich Paul, the representative of Miami Heat star LeBron James, provided improper benefits to University of Texas sophomore guard Myck Kabongo, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
James and two former Texas Longhorns – Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson and San Antonio Spurs guard Cory Joseph – are represented by Paul's new management company, Klutch Sports. Paul also called NBA front offices on behalf of Kabongo before this year's NBA draft, sources said.
"We're aware of the situation," Texas basketball media relations official Scott McConnell said. "But we have not heard any decisions from the NCAA."
McConnell declined further comment but confirmed that the NCAA has interviewed Kabongo, and said the Texas compliance department was aware of the issue.
"At the end of the day, here's the main thing, it's no crime to have a relationship with the kid," Paul told Yahoo! Sports. "Of course, I know Myck through Tristan and Cory. I haven't been contacted by the NCAA and I wouldn't put a kid in harm's way. My time in Cleveland was getting [former University of Kentucky star] Michael Kidd-Gilchrist prepared for the draft. I live in Cleveland.
"I would never disrespect anybody's program. I love the game of basketball. I understand the business of basketball, but I'm about doing it the right way."
One element of what sources describe as a wide-ranging NCAA probe centers on whether Paul played a role in Kabongo traveling to Cleveland this spring on a trip that included at least one workout with New York-based professional trainer, Jerry Powell. At issue, potentially, is who paid for Kabongo's travel and expenses, and whether Powell's training was provided without cost.
Powell told Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday that an NCAA investigator contacted him recently about the probe into Paul and Kabongo. Powell said he worked out Kabongo in Cleveland in May, and that Paul wasn't in the gymnasium.
"I told the NCAA my side of the story," Powell told Yahoo! Sports. "I'm sure Myck told his side. I'm not trying to ruin nobody's eligibility. It's never been about anything but workouts with me. I'm a trainer. That's all. I'm not aligned with anybody. I'm my own person. I don't get caught up with any of that."
Powell told Yahoo! Sports that he had a previous relationship with Kabongo through "someone I know who [Kabongo] played a tournament with once." Powell did not disclose who that person is, why he had traveled to Cleveland or how the workout was arranged.
"After [the workout] was over, I just went back to my hotel room," Powell said. "I'm not aligned with Rich. I did the workout. That's all I did."
An agent is allowed to have a relationship with a prospect and his family, but providing or promising financial benefits could place the player's college eligibility in peril. If the NCAA uncovers violations, Kabongo's eligibility could be compromised.
Kabongo and Thompson are childhood friends from Toronto, who attended the same high schools in New Jersey and Nevada before ultimately going to the University of Texas. Thompson was a rookie with the Cavaliers during the 2011-12 NBA season while Kabongo was a freshman at Texas.
Powell said Paul was present for a predraft workout of Kidd-Glichrist in New York last spring, but not with Kabongo in Cleveland. Kidd-Gilchrist is a Creative Artists Agency client with whom Paul worked closely within the past year.
After four years working in CAA's basketball division, Paul left the company in September and has applied with the National Basketball Players Association to be a registered player agent. At the same time, James left CAA and made Paul his agent.
After Kabongo's freshman season at Texas, Paul called several NBA front-office executives on the player's behalf to gauge where Kabongo, a point guard, might be picked in the 2012 NBA draft, front-office sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Kabongo had been largely viewed as a second-round draft pick after starting 34 games for Texas a season ago, but several executives told Y! Sports he'll likely be a first-round pick in 2013 should he make the normal improvement. Draftexpress.com rates Kabongo as the 20th overall draft pick in its 2013 mock draft.
At CAA, Paul hadn't been registered as an agent, but was active in recruiting several players to the agency – including Thompson and former Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn – and he communicated with NBA front offices in several agent-related capacities, league sources said.
Bylaw 12.3 of the NCAA rulebook covers agent interaction. "A student-athlete … may not agree verbally or in writing to be represented by an athlete agent in the present or in the future for the purpose of marketing the student-athlete's ability or reputation," the bylaw states. "If the student-athlete enters into such an agreement, the student-athlete is ineligible for intercollegiate competition.
"Also, a student-athlete may not accept transportation or other benefits from an athlete agent. This prohibition applies to the student-athlete and his or her relatives or friends."
If a violation occurs, the athlete's school "must declare the student-athlete ineligible for intercollegiate competition," the NCAA's website states. "The institution decides to ask for the reinstatement of the student-athlete's eligibility and sends a request to the NCAA staff.
"At a minimum, the student-athlete will be required to repay the value of the impermissible benefits and will be withheld from a certain number of contests, based on case precedent."
A student-athlete may also violate NCAA legislation even if the financing of the event comes from his or her former teammate under preferential treatment legislation. NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168.6 prohibits "preferential treatment, benefits or services because of the individual's athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete, unless such treatment, benefits or services are specifically permitted under NCAA legislation."
NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn declined comment Wednesday, citing the organization's policy prohibiting comment on current, pending or potential investigations.
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