Even TMZ is on Cats' tail

Gossip site keeps Cats in crosshairs

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJuly 3, 2010 

John Clay

Celebrity gossip Web sites are the Internet's guilty pleasure. Kentucky owns the most star-studded program in college hoops. Should have known there would be a collision at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard.

Big Blue Nation woke up to a Friday firecracker, with the celebrity gossip Web site TMZ, based in the Hollywood Hills, posting a juicy tidbit about how the NCAA was aggressively looking at the relationships between agents and four Kentucky basketball players.

TMZ knew this, of course, via an unnamed source.

The NCAA declined comment, as it always does. Kentucky declined comment, as it almost always does. Word is UK has not received any notice from the NCAA about any sort of investigation, and that Coach John Calipari is on a July 4 vacation.

Speaking of Coach Cal, he and Lady Gaga might share (at least) one common view. Fame can be a monster.

We've been down this well-traveled road before, after all. But the source of the info wasn't The New York Times. Or even a sports publication or site. The interesting curveball here is that the news source is a wildly popular and often accurate dot-com that normally deals in Lindsay Lohan's lunacy, Britney Spears' blather and Sandra Bullock's divorce papers.

To be sure, TMZ dominates its sometimes seedy turf. Alexa, a Web site analytics company, ranks TMZ as the 89th most popular Web site in the U.S. Started by lawyer turned (sort of) journalist Harvey Levin, "Thirty Mile Zone" was first with the story of Michael Jackson's death and routinely bashed its competitors during the flurry of Tiger Woods bimbo eruptions.

Has the Web site unearthed anything truthful with its UK "probe" report? Who knows? The site has said it wants to spin off a separate Web site devoted to breaking sports stories. And, based in L.A., it does appear to own strong informational relationships with public relations flaks and agents.

Plus, in March, the site broke the story about how Merrill Lynch finance man Jeffrey Hausinger deposited $3,000 into the bank account of Oklahoma basketball player Keith "Tiny" Gallon the previous November. Two months later, Gallon confirmed the story to Adam Zagoria of Zagsblog. Assistant coach Oronde Taliaferro resigned. Now the NCAA is doing some note-taking of its own around Norman.

Point being, don't dismiss TMZ just because it devotes its resources to explaining how Ms. Lohan was punched in the face at her own birthday party.

Unlike TMZ's report on Oklahoma, however, the UK report is based on the dreaded anonymous source. No names are given. No dates are offered. There isn't a plethora of pertinent facts to give the story any sort of background. John Gasaway of basketballprospectus.com correctly called it "thinly sourced."

Truth be told, the NCAA asks questions of a lot of people. If you are Kentucky, with Calipari as coach, with numerous NBA-ready, agent-attracting players, the compliance branch in Indianapolis is going to take an interest.

Seems like everyone takes an interest in UK basketball these days. Guess we should have known this was going to happen once Cal brought Drake in to rap his way through Midnight Madness and LeBron started sitting courtside. Ashley Judd as your superfan was one thing, but is there any (hoops) celebrity more mysterious than World Wide Wes?

Next thing we know, we won't be able to get around Memorial Coliseum for all the paparazzi. After all, TMZ does admit it pays for tips.

Lady Gaga is right.

Fame really is a monster.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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