Kansas officials confirmed Saturday that they were reviewing a report that Ben McLemore’s former AAU coach accepted cash payments from a middleman who was attempting to attract the KU freshman on behalf of sports agents and financial advisers in Los Angeles.
The payments, which were detailed in a report by USA Today, were made from Rodney Blackstock, the founder of a sports mentoring organization based in Greensboro, N.C., to Darius Cobb, the St. Louis-based AAU coach who served as a coach and mentor to McLemore during his childhood in St. Louis.
Cobb told USA Today that he accepted two payments of $5,000 each and twice traveled to Los Angeles to meet with Blackstock, sports agents and financial advisers who wanted to represent McLemore in the NBA. On the second trip, which came at the end of January, Cobb was reportedly accompanied by Richard Boyd, a cousin of McLemore's who lives in the St. Louis area. Boyd has denied taking the trip.
The cash and trips could have potentially put McLemore’s eligibility and amateur status in question, because of NCAA rules that prohibit sports agents from providing gifts or money to family members, friends and coaches.
"Late this afternoon we received an inquiry regarding the relationship between the family of Ben McLemore and a third party, Rodney Blackstock,” KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger said in a news release. “This was the first time this inquiry had been presented to us.
“In accordance with the conditions and obligations of its membership in the NCAA and the Big 12 Conference, the University of Kansas will review the information and process it with both of those entities if necessary. We are not in a position to comment further at this time."
Cobb did not respond to calls and texts from The Kansas City Star. Attempts to reach Boyd were unsuccessful.
The relationship between Cobb and Blackstock, who founded Hooplife Academy, a nonprofit organization in Greensboro, appeared to build as McLemore played his freshman season at Kansas. On the court, McLemore transformed into one of the top players in the country after overcoming a tragic childhood backstory of poverty in the crime-ridden St. Louis neighborhood of Wellston.
He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-6 record, their ninth straight Big 12 title and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. McLemore declared for the NBA Draft in April and is a potential top-five pick.
Cobb told USA Today that McLemore did not know about the payments he had accepted from Blackstock.
However, if Cobb and Boyd received “transportation or other benefits” from Blackstock, those benefits would have been in breach of NCAA Bylaw 220.127.116.11.
The bylaw states that “an individual shall be ineligible if he or she (or his or her relatives or friends) accepts transportation or other benefits from:
(a) Any person who represents any individual in the marketing of his or her athletics ability. The receipt of such expenses constitutes compensation based on athletics skill and is an extra benefit not available to the student body in general; or
(b) An agent, even if the agent has indicated that he or she has no interest in representing the student-athlete in the marketing of his or her athletics ability or reputation and does not represent individuals in the student-athlete’s sport.”
According to documents obtained by USA Today, Blackstock also attended three KU games this season, gaining free admission as a guest of McLemore’s. Cobb said he also paid a bill for McLemore’s birthday party, which included family members, at Wayne & Larry’s, a restaurant in Lawrence. According to Cobb, the bill was between “$400 or $500” and Blackstock also assisted in ordering a “custom” cake for McLemore’s party, which came a day before McLemore scored 30 points in a victory over K-State.
Earlier this year, Cobb told The Star that he regularly organized KU watch parties for McLemore's family at a St. Louis sports bar. Cobb also regularly attended KU home games.
The NCAA has ruled on similar cases on a case-by-case basis. But if McLemore’s amateur status was in question, KU could risk forfeiting games in which he participated.
Cobb told USA Today he was telling his side of the story because he wanted to expose people who use money to court individuals and their families while they still have their amateur status.
"I don't want to hurt the family, I want to protect the family," Cobb said. "If there had to be a bad guy, if there had to be a fall guy, let it be me, as opposed to ruining a great kid who has busted his butt to get where he is.”