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Shady Characters: Dissecting the NY Times Story on SU Target Nerlens Noel

The New York Times’ Pete Thamel (SU ’99) landed another haymaker to college corruption this weekend, as he pulled back the curtain on Nerlens Noel’s recruitment. Thamel has become one of the most influential sports journalists in the nation for consistently uncovering the shadier sides of rogue athletic departments and darker dealings of the NCAA game. Could someone please pass this piece along to Charles Robinson and Pat Forde? While Thamel’s piece is meticulously researched and leans on a dozen identified characters, the Yahoo! Sports report was entirely of anonymous sources and vague innuendo.

On Nerlens, the question is whether Syracuse should remain involved. The highly sought-after recruit clearly has some red flags, and now it’s highly publicized. What’s it worth to the Orange? SU has big man Dajuan Coleman coming to the Hill¬†next season, and will be incorporating the Three Amigos into bigger roles. While Dion and Fab may leave for the pros, the cupboard is still stocked. Syracuse could cut bait on N2 to avoid the headaches.

But Thamel’s piece is less about the danger of Noel himself, and more about the parasitic nature of the hangers on around the prep star, especially his scummy “handler” Chris Driscoll. Noel has chatted with The Fizz a few times, either by phone on Fizz Radio or in person during his recruiting visit at the Dome. Each time Nerlens has been polite, engaging and enthusiastic. This is really not about Noel’s character flaws. It’s about the flawed characters around him.

But the worry is by messing with the bull, you also get the horns. Syracuse could do everything above board, but end up with a player who’s attached to some incredibly shady dealings. SU has to weigh the potential danger of anything with Noel’s background, even the NCAA one day marking him ineligible. Specifically now that his story has come to light, the heat lamp will always be on how and where Nerlens lands.

Tilton’s headmaster Jim Clements said the school had had extensive discussions with Noel and his mother about the difference between official and unofficial visits and how to ‚Äúnot engage in behavior that would create a violation‚Äù of N.C.A.A. rules.¬†‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think his primary focus is a student‚Äôs well-being,‚Äù Tilton coach Marcus O‚ÄôNeil said of Driscoll.

The report is chock full of some amazing quotes, especially pertaining to Chris Driscoll, who seems like the most toxic person alive. In the underhanded world of college basketball recruiting, this is actually pretty impressive. To stand out as the lowest of this bunch is really saying something. Leo Papile has been the coach of the Boston Amateur Basketball Club since 1977.

“He’s a great disappointment to me,” Papile said of Driscoll. “I thought he had wanted to be a coach, but it appears that his primary object was to be a handler. He’s not a teacher, he’s not a coach.” He added, “Bluntly, you’re dealing with the worst guy I’ve ever known in this game.”

The worst guy ever.¬†Driscoll was hired as an assistant at Providence, and lasted one year. Damn good thing Ed Cooley canned this dude when he got to the Friars. The NCAA would’ve been crawling through PC athletic offices by Monday.

(Youth coach Lenny) Parsons coached Noel on youth travel basketball teams. Even then, he noticed rival coaches sizing up his star player and attempting to poach him. “There have been people trying to use him since the fourth or fifth grade.”¬†

The scary thing is this is par for the course. Incredibly talented players come from broken homes and unstable situations all the time, ripe for opportunists to move in for the kill. N2’s high school coach called Georgetown to let the Hoyas know about his star.

DiBiaso said that a rift developed between him and the Noel family after he made the call, perhaps an early sign of others attempting to influence the young star.¬†‚ÄúThe big thing I echoed to the parents when I did speak with them was that I‚Äôve been here 33 years; I‚Äôm not looking for anything.”¬†He let out a long sigh and said, ‚ÄúThey chose a different tack and we lost touch.‚Äù

Any doubt Driscoll started maneuvering behind the scenes to discredit the coach? This dirtbag wanted to call the shots himself on Nerlens, and pushed anyone looking out for the kid away.

Everett High principal, Louis Baldi, said he was “extremely concerned” about Noel, and said that his recruitment reminded him of a boxer with a teeming entourage in his heyday who might find himself penniless upon retirement. “I pray it works out for him and that the light turns on in his head,” Baldi said of Noel. “I pray it’s not too late.”

You have to think there’s some hurt feelings at Everett High, so this sounds a little melodramatic. Too late? Nerlens is still in high school. NBA scouts drool over his size. Everett would love to have N2 packing the house every Friday night, and bring ESPN cameras through its halls. Understandable. But let’s not make it out like Noel is 65 years old and living under a bridge.

Laurel Cannon, the mother of guard Gerard Coleman, called Providence administrators and claimed that her son was asked by Driscoll to fake an injury in order to lose games. The reason he asked, Cannon told Providence administrators, was so Coach Keno Davis would be fired and Driscoll could take over. “No one wants someone to see their child used as a product; no one does,” Cannon said. “He had us fooled. He really had us fooled.”

I mean, Driscoll just keeps topping himself. He’s asking kids to fake injuries to get coaches fired? Stay classy, Chris. Seems like everyone has a fun anecdote about this douche. Coach O‚ÄôNeil (who joined Fizz Radio in September), your turn.

(Driscoll) ‚Äútold me that he thought he was going to be the next coach at Providence College and that I could be his assistant. All I had to do was help him to get Nerlens Noel to commit to Providence College. ‘Nerlens is my last chance,’ O‚ÄôNeil recalled Driscoll saying. ‘I need to score, and I need to score big.’‚Äù

Nice. Former Iowa State star Will Blaylock will have the final word.

“(Blaylock) said, Driscoll instructed him to call the athletic director, Bruce Van De Velde, and say he would attend another university unless Iowa State hired the assistant Wayne Morgan as Eustachy‚Äôs replacement.”

Again, this says far more about Driscoll than it does Nerlens. Maybe this expose will allow the Noels to cut Driscoll out of the picture. But all the dirt is on the handler, not the player in this instance. It raises plenty of suspicion on the recruitment of Nerlens, and how much influence Driscoll will have on it. Should SU pull out of the race for him? As much as Orange Nation is pining to land the talented big man, it makes you wonder if anyone wants SU to to have to lie in the mud with Chris Driscoll to do it.

Posted: D.A.

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.


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