Ex-Cat Walker says Memphis investigation could dog UK for a while

jtipton@herald-leader.comMay 29, 2009 

Kentucky has tried to keep allegations of rule breaking in John Calipari's Memphis program at arm's length. But UK All-American Kenny Walker found it difficult to believe that the Wildcats can avoid the issue.

"You're crazy if you think (that)," Walker said on Thursday. "Because of guilt by association."

Calipari's move from Memphis to Kentucky this spring links UK to the NCAA investigation into alleged major violations involving academic fraud and improper payments of travel expenses totalling more than $2,200, he said.

Hours after news of the allegations broke on Wednesday, UK issued a statement that said, "This is a University of Memphis issue and the University of Kentucky will not comment any further."

But Walker said he expects Kentucky to remain in the spotlight, if not center stage. He likened UK basketball to the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys: magnets for opinion.

"You're either with us or against us," he said. "Anything that comes up gets magnified and rehashed. Cal is a big personality, and Kentucky is a big school.

"I'm hopeful Mitch and Lee Todd did a thorough search (into the allegations)."

UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart and school president Lee T. Todd Jr. issued statements saying they were aware of the NCAA investigation before hiring Calipari. UK also noted that Calipari received a letter from the NCAA absolving him of responsibility.

"It's never a good time for anything like that," Walker said of the investigation. "... The last thing you want to talk about are bad things that happened under your watch."

Meanwhile, former UK point guard Saul Smith used his Facebook page to caution the basketball program about running afoul of NCAA rules. He questioned Barnhart's leadership of the athletic department.

"Bad bad day for my alma mater," Smith wrote on his Facebook page Thursday. "The UK athletic program will never regain its true champion nature with Businessmen running it. Never, no matter how many so called blue chip players you bring in. You can't sacrifice your integrity for success. You just can't do it. I'm an alum and I deserve a clean-ran program, plain and simple. Period, and if anyone disagrees, you, my friend, shouldn't support the program I played 4."

Smith now works as an assistant coach for his father, former UK coach Tubby Smith, at Minnesota.

Later in a follow-up interview, Smith said he did not mean to suggest Calipari used questionable methods.

"Coach Cal is my guy," Smith said. "I'm close to him."

Smith said he interviewed for a spot on Calipari's Memphis staff in 2007.

Of the Memphis allegations, Smith said of Calipari, "I don't think he knew about it."

Smith also said his father refused to "pay" for players as Kentucky coach.

"He had the opportunity to get great players," Saul Smith said. "But the integrity wouldn't be there. ...

"I'm not saying Cal has done that. I'm just saying (Kentucky) can't afford it. We've been down that road."

The Smiths, father and son, witnessed Rick Pitino's resurrection of Kentucky basketball after the rules violations — including academic fraud — and subsequent NCAA penalties of the late 1980s.

Apparently, there was a negative reaction to Smith's word of caution.

Later, he made another posting on Facebook. It read: "1st of all. Calipari is my guy. UK is my team. Where r u knuckleheads coming up with this crap. All I said was I'm sick of hearing negative about my alma mater (u know the team I bled, sweated, and cried for. U know the program I have 6 SEC titles and 1 national title)."

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