TRYING TO understand how the NCAA administers its form of justice is an exercise somewhere between frustration and confusion.
John Wall, from Word of God Academy in North Carolina, is the star freshman point guard for Kentucky. He is very likely to be the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA draft.
Deniz Kilicli, from Turkey, is a freshman big man for West Virginia. He is very likely unknown to all but the most serious hoopheads.
What do they have in common? Each got caught up in the NCAA's justice system.
The NCAA ruled that Wall had to repay $787.58 that his former AAU coach and onetime sports agent, Brian Clifton, gave him in the form of what the NCAA calls an "an improper benefit." College players, of course, can't take anything of value from agents.
Wall also could not play in one exhibition game and the first regular-season game as part of his punishment. This was not a draconian result. Some might even argue that it was rational, considering that Wall might not have known he was doing anything against the rules. (Now, this whole agent thing is another story entirely, but that is about greed, not about what is good for college players.)
Two seasons ago, in Turkey, Kilicli played on a team that included one player who was getting paid. Kilicli was not getting paid. One of his teammates was. Kilicli had no way of knowing that. He also had no way of knowing that that was a violation of the NCAA's amateurism rules or that he would ever be playing for a school in the NCAA.
The NCAA suspended Kilicli for 20 games.
Does this make any sense? Does this punishment fit this "crime," especially when Wall, who actually took something of value, was suspended for one real game?
If you ask somebody at the NCAA about this, you get some bureaucratic legalese that probably makes sense at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, but makes no sense to those living in the real world.
By the way, Kilicli can practice with the team and will be eligible to play Feb. 3 against Pittsburgh. And he will play. He has been practicing. The WVU coaches love him and think he can help the team win the school's first national championship.
Maybe it could be WVU vs. UK in Indy on the first Monday in April for the NCAA championship.
Which brings me back to my larger point, articulated in this space a few weeks ago. Why even try to police this? Just let the cheaters keep on cheating and have those schools that want to win so badly they will take any risk go off into a large cartel (sort of like the BCS).
Usually, coaches don't reach the breaking point until February. So what was up with the bizarre scene on the CBS College Sports Network at the end of the Penn-Navy game Friday night?
With 17 seconds left and Navy leading by five, Middies star Chris Harris fouled out. After a short timeout, which a team gets when a player fouls out, Penn's Jack Eggleston went to the foul line. Navy coach Billy Lange, the former Villanova assistant, went berserk, screaming down the sideline toward the Penn bench that they put the wrong shooter on the line.
It got very heated for a few moments. The officials checked the replay. It was, in fact, Eggleston who got fouled. He promptly missed both free throws. Navy won the game. Lange apologized for his outburst after the game.
It's Connecticut against Kentucky in tonight's Big East/SEC Invitational at Madison Square Garden. Good friends Jim Calhoun and John Calipari on the sideline. Is New York City big enough for both egos?
And two of the early season's most impressive teams, Syracuse and Florida, play tomorrow in Tampa.
La Salle seriously ramped up its nonconference schedule this season. Saturday, the Explorers get No. 1 Kansas at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The Jayhawks are at Temple on Jan. 2.
KU is deep, experienced, very well coached and very, very, very talented.
The fall Ohio State's Evan Turner took Saturday was frightening. He tried to hold on to the rim after going in for a dunk that missed. He lost his grip and fell on his back.
I thought he was headed for national player of the year. Now, he will be out 8 weeks with two fractured vertebra in his back. In a sport with lots of good people, Turner is one of the best.
* Scottie Reynolds is only the third Villanova player to compile 1,700 points and 400 assists. The others? Kerry Kittles and Randy Foye.
* By the way, 'Nova's game against Maryland Sunday in Washington was the first between the schools since Feb. 1, 1986. Which just happened to be the first game at the Ski Lodge. The Maryland star that day? Len Bias.
I will always contend Bias was the second best player in ACC history. David Thompson was the best. Michael Jordan? Really good in college, but he did not become MJ until he got to the NBA.
Maryland has 19 wins over Top 25 teams under Gary Williams. The Terps were no match for Villanova on Sunday.
* West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler reminds me of Kevin Durant. Now, I am not saying Butler is Durant, who was the player of the year as a freshman at Texas and is heading for NBA superstardom. But Butler has the same kind of smooth outside/inside game that makes him very difficult to cover..
* When Syracuse survived Colgate for the 44th straight time on Nov. 30, it marked Jim Boeheim's 1,000th win at the school - 806 as head coach, 139 as an assistant and 55 as a player.
* Yes, Simeon Marsalis, the backup point guard for Vermont when it was at Drexel's Daskalakis Athletic Center for the Legends Classic on Thanksgiving weekend, is Wynton's son.
* Chris Mooney's Richmond team was expected to be good, but maybe not this good. The Spiders (7-1) have wins over Mississippi State and Missouri. Their only loss was to William & Mary, which might sound bad until you realize W&M has beaten Wake Forest and beat VCU in the Colonial opener.
* And what was up with Charlotte going to Freedom Hall and crushing Louisville, 87-65? Yes, Peyton Silva, Preston Knowles and Jerry Smith did not play for the 'Ville, but still.
* George Washington is also way better than it has been in the past, so wins in the Atlantic 10 will not be easy anywhere, except against Fordham.