NCAA investigating Nerlens Noel, of course

Late Tuesday night, right around the time my boy JaVale McGee was chucking his Denver Nuggets game ball into the stratosphere (McGee had just played the best game of his life in a playoff elimination contest, but he has no use for silly trinkets such as these), The New York Times ran this story by college sports reporter Pete Thamel on the NCAA's investigation of Nerlens Noel.

According to the Times, the NCAA "sent two members of its enforcement staff to Massachusetts this week to inquire" about Noel, the No. 1 prospect in the ESPNU top 100 for the class of 2012, at his former high school, Everett High in Everett, Mass., where Noel spent his freshman and sophomore seasons. Thamel spoke with the Everett High principal, Louis Baldi, who said the conversation with NCAA investigators was centered on "concerns we had as adults" about the people surrounding Noel as he prepares to embark on his college career. From the story:

“I didn’t get any sense,” Baldi said when asked about the conversation’s tone. “It was a conversation, very collegial. That was really it. They didn’t ask me any investigative-type questions.”

The "concerns we had as adults" bit comes, as Thamel writes, from Noel's associations with two people. One is Chris Driscoll, a former Providence associate who is reportedly close with Noel. Driscoll was banned from campus at the Tilton School, the boarding school where Noel spent his junior and senior seasons. The other person of interest is Errol Randolph, a former substitute teacher at Everett High, "who is another of Noel’s advisers, according to the person briefed on the inquiry." From the story:

Until recently, Randolph had a link on his LinkedIn page directing people to the Web site of the sports agency run by the prominent basketball agent Andy Miller. The link to Miller’s ASM Sports Web site has since been removed.

Randolph said that he had no formal affiliation with Miller and had never received money from him, and that the Web site ended up on his LinkedIn page because he was browsing it. Randolph said he knew Miller from another relationship more than 10 years ago.

I haven't used LinkedIn since its early days, back when it seemed like a totally pointless thing. So I'm not positive here, but if LinkedIn is like pretty much every other social network except Facebook -- which is determined to share a link to everything you read and listen to all day, every day -- links on the site don't auto-magically show up without your intent to post them on your profile. So that explanation doesn't really hold.

But anyway, that's a brief aside. This is an interesting story, and one Kentucky fans will be watching closely as their highly touted prospect prepares for his freshman season at the school. But the words "Nerlens Noel" and "investigation" give this an air of suspense that doesn't really exist. I think Rob Dauster at NBC has it pretty much right: This isn't a big story yet. If the NCAA finds something improper in Noel's prep career, then yeah, that's a big deal. But the news that the organization is checking in on the top college basketball prospect in the country shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Of course the NCAA is looking at Noel. The NCAA looks at a lot of players, particularly high-profile basketball recruits, who almost universally know a person or two in their lives who could possibly harm their eligibility. It happens.

Chances are, Kentucky coach John Calipari and his athletics and compliance staff have done their own due diligence on Noel's situation, and wouldn't have taken him if they weren't sure they wouldn't run the risk of NCAA penalties. Until the NCAA finds something to counter that stance, this is a story to watch. But it's nothing out of the ordinary, not just yet.