Coaches support players despite warning

CHICAGO -- A number of college coaches rebuffed the NCAA's attempt to keep them away from this week's NBA pre-draft camp, attending Tuesday night's initial workouts to encourage their former players.

Each of the coaches in attendance were aware of the NCAA's memo that the draft camp should be off limits because of prospective student-athletes being at the camp during a quiet period.

The NCAA looked at high school senior James Lang and junior college freshman Sani Ibrahim as being prospective student-athletes. But Lang signed with an agent, forfeiting his eligibility in the NCAA. Under NCAA rules, once Ibrahim declared for the draft out of junior college, he lost his amateur status with the NCAA.

Regardless of a potential secondary violation, head coaches from Georgetown, Notre Dame, Ohio, New Mexico, Portland, Morehead State, Western Illinois and assistants from San Diego, Saint Joseph's, UNLV and Arizona were in attendance at the Moody Bible Institute. By Wednesday morning, Memphis head coach John Calipari and assistants from Syracuse and Michigan State were watching their former players scrimmage, each challenging the NCAA to actually write them up when none of the players at the camp are recruitable athletes.

None of the coaches Tuesday were worried that the NCAA would actually try and pursue this case. NBA officials were aghast at the NCAA's attempt to bar college coaches from attending the draft camp. Last year's camp had a high school player and previous camps have had junior college players, yet the NCAA has never tried to prevent college coaches from attending in the past.

Brad Hostetter of the NCAA's membership services told ESPN.com Monday that the reason they were addressing the issue this year was "we were asked." Hostetter said the definition of a prospective student athlete was someone who could still attend college. Under this definition, then even projected top pick LeBron James out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High (Akron, Ohio) would still be considered a recruitable athlete since he could still attend college in the fall. Yet, James signed a $90 million contract with Nike as well as signing with an agent -- both acts took away his amateur status in the eyes of the NCAA.

A few coaches were worried that the two early-entry international players at the draft camp -- Alexsander Vujacic and Alexsandar Djuric -- would be considered prospective student athletes. But both signed with an agent, meaning they can't attend a four-year NCAA Division I school.

James Garland, who works in Hostetter's office at membership services in the NCAA, was sent to observe how the pre-draft camp runs. Garland didn't know there weren't any eligible prospective student-athletes in attendance.

A workout scheduled for Thursday with high school seniors Ndudi Ebi and Charlie Villanueva at another site in the city would be ripe for a violation if a college coach went to watch the workout. Both players haven't yet decided whether to stay in the draft. Ebi signed with Arizona, but the Wildcats' coaches can't watch the workout. Villanueva committed to Connecticut, but the Huskies can't watch him, either.

Georgetown coach Craig Esherick said he has been to 10 Chicago pre-draft camps without incident. He was in attendance to support former center Wesley Wilson, who left the team during the season. Esherick said that attending the camp was the least he could do for Wilson. He wanted to encourage him in his question to play professional basketball after what happened during the season.

Notre Dame's Mike Brey was in the gym to push former Irish guard Matt Carroll. Morehead State's Kyle Muncy was here to help Ricky Minard in his decision process. Players like San Diego's Jason Keep, UCLA's Jason Kapono, New Mexico's Ruben Douglas, Saint Joseph's Jameer Nelson, Ohio's Brandon Hunter and Arizona's Ricky Anderson, Luke Walton and Jason Gardner had coaches in the stands watching their progress on the first night of drills.

Coaches have done this every year at the Chicago pre-draft camp. The ones in attendance Tuesday expect their presence here to be a statement to the NCAA that enforcing this rule would be a waste of time.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.