This week's Sports Illustrated cover is deservedly dedicated to the Dallas Mavericks, those aging, ball-moving, Dirk-ifying Western Conference Finals participants. On that cover, in the top right corner, comes a tease far more enticing than anything the Mavericks could conjure. It reads: "The Secret Life of a College Basketball Recruiter."
In the end, the story stamped most of what you already knew about college basketball recruiting: It's brutal, tireless, travel-filled, unseemly and maybe even a little bit creepy. But there was at least one small bit of a intrigue afoot: Several times in the story, both Washington assistant coach Raphael Chillious and former UCLA assistant Scott Duncan talk on the record to SI reporter Bruce Schoenfeld about players they are currently recruiting.
The problem? NCAA rules prohibit coaches from talking about prospective student-athletes that have yet to sign a national letter of intent.
The examples aren't all that hard to find. Here's Chillious discussing 15-year-old Justin Jackson, a homeschooled native of Nederland, Texas, where Chillious is thrilled to be the only coach in the gym watching the game:
"This is a Polaroid that you shake off, stick on the refrigerator and date," he says. "Because later on, when Justin's a senior, I can talk about it. 'Man, how long ago was it, I saw you play that game in Nederland? Remember? You were in ninth grade. Man, you got so much stronger since then.' And other coaches won't have that memory with him."
Duncan, meanwhile, speaks about a recruit but isn't quoted in the following passage. Chillious, however, is:
[Recruit Jordan] Tebbutt is being recruited by every team in the Pac-10, plus Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas and Texas. Duncan believes UCLA has the inside track. As he talks about the prospect of landing this muscular baseline player with a shooter's range and touch, his gloom begins to lift. Yeah, he missed out on those point guards, but this is another cycle, a fresh chance. He swallows some coffee and stands up to go.
While Duncan was sipping coffee, Chillious was courtside, in the row of chairs provided for coaches and VIPs. He was there before anyone else, working the iPhone, waiting for warmups. "I was the first person Tebbutt saw this morning," he says. "Other coaches are here for the game, but they weren't here at 8:15. That stuff adds up."
Here's Duncan, on the record:
"I can't do a lot with Jordan Tebbutt at this tournament -- just make sure he sees me at the game, wave to his dad and mom, and that's it," Duncan says. "Anybody in a UCLA shirt could do it."
Later in the story, Chillious sits down "beside a Nike friend" and discusses the conversation he had with Duncan about highly touted 2012 recruits Shabazz Muhammed and Quinn Cook:
"It's amazing," he said. "Duncan really thinks they're going to get Shabazz." Then again, Chillious never heard of a player Duncan was recruiting that he wasn't confident he'd get. "He kept telling me, 'We're getting Quinn Cook,'" Chillious says, "and then Cook signs with Duke. He didn't see that coming? Dude could live next door to me, but if Duke decides they want him, it's tough."
There are a few more scattered instances of these sorts of statements. Some are more vague than others. None are particularly outlandish. They are, however, against NCAA rules. There's a reason head coaches never, ever comment on the record about players, and a reason why some -- like Butler's Brad Stevens -- won't even go that far. It's easy enough to avoid, and it's probably not worth the NCAA-related headache, however minor or secondary that headache may turn out to be. Given the usual reticence, it's almost as if Duncan and Chillious forgot there was a reporter around. They're not breaking down every player they see, of course, but they're not exactly being shy, either.
That's the question here: Are Chillious and Duncan in any sort of trouble? According to Pac-10 associate commissioner Mike Matthews, who spoke with the LA Times, details about the potential violations are still being gathered but don't appear to be remotely serious to this point:
"On the surface of things, it looks like a very, very secondary violation," Matthews said. "I wouldn't expect that the penalty would be terribly severe based on the facts as I understand them so far."
That sounds about right. Minor or not, though, this is a headache. If you want to go out on a limb, you could go ahead and say it's a headache neither UCLA coach Ben Howland nor Washington coach Lorenzo Romar want anything to do with in this all-important time of year. Bold statement, I know.