Hours after Georgia Tech was beaten by Notre Dame in the ACC tournament Tuesday, Josh Pastner texted this sentiment to this reporter: "We will get there, Mark. We are close. I really believe that."
On Thursday night, the Institute's director of media relations admitted to the AJC's Ken Sugiura that Tech has received a dreaded notice of allegations from the NCAA regarding three possible violations. It's unclear what might come of this – the NCAA, as we know, moves in mysterious ways – but the last thing a program struggling for recruiting traction needs is to have to defend itself before the Committee on Infractions.
Pastner, it must be stressed, is not named in the NOA. He spent Thursday sitting in the stands at the Spectrum Center and watching the ACC tournament quarterfinals. “I can’t comment on this (the NOA),” he said when approached during the second half of the Duke-Syracuse game. “I’m just here trying to see what we have to do to play on Thursday.”
The third count involves Ron Bell, Pastner’s (former) friend from hell, and has been widely known for more than a year. The first and second involve former Tech assistant Darryl LaBarrie, who was placed on administrative leave in the fall of 2017 after the school reported these apparent violations to the NCAA. Count No. 1 offers details as to what LaBarrie’s sin was, the gist of which has also circulated in college basketball circles almost since it occurred in November 2016.
All names except LaBarrie's are redacted, but the whispers held what the NOA states – that LaBarrie "facilitated" a meeting between a former Tech player who has worked in the NBA (meaning, as reported by ESPN, Jarrett Jack) and a high-profile Atlanta-area recruit (meaning Wendell Carter of Pace Academy) that wound up in a famous Atlanta strip club. Jack paid for Carter's cover charges, food and, per the NOA, $300 cash for use at the strip club.
A former player is, by letter of the NCAA law, “a representative of the school’s athletic interest.” Such a representative isn’t supposed to pay for anything or even contact the recruit. (Indeed, a follow-up text message from Jack to Carter is mentioned in the NOA as “impermissible.”) Any college coach should know that – heck, college coaches take tests on this stuff – and LaBarrie, who’s a Tech grad, had worked as an assistant to Ron Hunter at Georgia State before joining Pastner’s staff.
Count No. 2 involves LaBarrie lying to Tech staff and investigators about his involvement – per the NOA, he said he hadn’t gone to the strip club – and seeking to influence Tech player Justin Moore, who served as Carter’s host, to lie as well. Count No. 3 is about Bell paying for Tech players Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson to fly to Arizona to stay at his home.
The NOA avers that the COI – apologies for the acronyms – could find that the counts involving LaBarrie could be severe, or Level I, violations. Count 3, involving Bell, could be deemed serious, or a Level 2. And now you’re asking: With all the sleaze being uncovered in the ongoing court cases involving college coaches and shoe companies, don’t the allegations against Tech pale by comparison? Maybe, but this isn’t about moral equivalency or the lack thereof. This is about getting caught doing something you shouldn’t have done, and Tech is making an unfortunate habit of getting caught.
Its football team had to forfeit the 2009 ACC title. Dan Radakovich, then Tech's athletic director, angered the NCAA by informing then-coach Paul Johnson that an investigation into a gift of clothing to Demaryius Thomas had been launched after the NCAA expressly told D-Rad to say nothing. Then, in 2014, Tech coaches in football and men's and women's basketball -- Pastner was working at Memphis then -- were found to have made hundreds of impermissible phone calls to recruits. Only in July 2017 did Tech's six accumulated years of probation end. Now this.
(Oh, and lest we forget: The Tech women’s basketball team finished its regular season without coach MaChelle Joseph, who has been placed on administrative for reasons the school hasn’t yet revealed.)
Pastner, we say again, is not named in the NOA. LaBarrie resigned after he was placed on leave. Carter didn’t sign with the Jackets. (If he had, Tech’s streak of nine seasons without an NCAA tournament appearance wouldn’t be intact.) It’s not likely that Pastner will get fired for something that happened almost three years ago and didn’t involve him; it’s entirely possible his program will be sanctioned.
In the basketball community, these allegations are old news. But the NOA brings them to light -- well, redacted light -- in a way that would make any institution of higher learning cringe. ESPN.com’s headline Friday morning bore nine words: Two of them were “Georgia Tech”; two more were “strip club.”
If we go back to Thursday’s missive regarding the future for Pastner and his Jackets, we note that ACC TV analyst Mike Gminski expressed surprise that Tech hasn’t been able to recruit better under this coach. Coupled with the NOA, that suggests that this program has hit a run of buzzard’s luck: It hasn’t signed any big names, and still it must go before the Committee on Infractions to defend its recruiting.