As Kansas prepared to open the Maui Invitational on Monday, KU coach Bill Self on Saturday offered his sharpest critique to date of the NCAA's investigation into the academic eligibility of freshman forward Cheick Diallo.
In a scathing indictment of the NCAA’s investigative process, Self criticized the pace of the case and the NCAA’s cooperation in the matter. Diallo, a McDonald’s All-American big man from Our Savior New American school in Centereach, N.Y., has remained sidelined this season while the NCAA looked into his academic credentials and his high school coursework from the private school.
Breaking his silence on the details of the case, Self said the NCAA notified Kansas on Sept. 1 of issues regarding Diallo’s academic eligibility. The organization, according to Self, said it would follow up with specific details regarding Diallo’s case and the specific coursework in question. Self said that correspondence didn’t arrive until Nov. 5 or 6, just days before the Jayhawks opened the regular season against Northern Colorado.
On Nov. 10, KU submitted to the NCAA a letter with a list of 19 facets of the investigation that concerned the school. In the letter, which was obtained by The Star, KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger called the Diallo case a “misfit process” in which it was clear that the “NCAA failed both to put forth an open-minded best effort for a student-athlete and to uncover facts supporting eligibility. All of which the University of Kansas did.”
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The NCAA has yet to respond to that inquiry, Self said. In addition, KU hired two independent groups to review Diallo’s high school coursework. According to Self, one group found that 15 of Diallo’s 16 core courses from Our Savior New American should be counted as college preparatory work. The other group, according to Self, found that all 16 should count.
According to NCAA rules on initial eligibility, prospective student-athletes must complete 16 core courses during high school. Self also said Diallo took previous courses in Mali, his home country, as well as independent study courses that should also count toward the requisite number of core courses.
“Needless to say, we’re very upset,” Self said, standing inside the Westin Maui Resort & Spa on Saturday evening. “The NCAA was given a list of 19 things 11 days ago on discrepancies or missteps or things that we really struggled with, and they said they would respond to us in writing, and they have yet to do that. So we decided to go ahead and take matters into our own hands.
“And we have found out that everything they have told us in why he wasn’t eligible (is not accurate) — they even brought up class attendance, which wasn’t true, they brought up curriculum changes that weren’t true — they brought up several things that weren’t 100 percent accurate.”
As the case dragged on for months, with the Jayhawks’ prized hoops recruit remaining in limbo, Self mostly opted to take the high road, saying that KU had to respect the NCAA’s process and that the school had to act, in good faith, as a partner in the academic investigation. At the heart of the case was Diallo’s time at Our Savior New American, a school that has been under NCAA review. As the season drew closer, the infrequent dialogue between KU and the NCAA continued for months. KU officials, Self said, tried to remain quiet and not express their frustration.
Self’s respectful tone took a drastic change Saturday as he expressed disappointment in the NCAA’s work in the case.
“Our university, our athletic department has been unbelievably patient in requesting information and trying to come to a conclusion,” Self said. “If Cheick’s work was not of quality, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We would totally agree. We were never informed (until the first week of November) what the problems were when they instructed us that they would inform us.”
For the moment, Diallo remains on the sideline, waiting for clearance from the NCAA. Earlier this week, he was granted a waiver to travel with the team to Maui. Self said that Kansas was in communication with the NCAA on Friday and Saturday and was still waiting to hear back on Diallo’s status.
“If there was any partnership between the school and the NCAA, we could have worked through this,” Self continued. “This is not an enforcement case, where you’re trying to dig up dirt or information. This has nothing to do with enforcement.
“It’s an informational case where you’re trying for a young man from Africa that comes over here in good faith, that did everything he was supposed to do, that attended a school that was in good standing when he attended it, was never notified that he should transfer or anything like that by anybody. It’s basically frustrating to just take the NCAA’s word, saying, ‘Well, it definitely doesn’t count.’ Because I think a lot of people do that.”
According to Self, the independent groups that reviewed Diallo’s coursework included a “team that covers curriculum for over 300 districts, including Los Angeles” and a group that specializes in teaching others how to understand high school curriculum.
“We are 100 percent confident that these two entities read his stuff accurately,” Self said.
When asked if that meant he expected Diallo would receive a positive ruling from the NCAA, Self stopped.
“Here’s the bottom line,” Self said. “That’s it. This is it. … It’s disappointing, but hopefully he’ll be playing very soon.”