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Thoughts on Myck Kabongo

Texas guard Myck Kabongo wanted to get better at basketball, but now he can't play at all because of an NCAA ruling. What the heck?

Myck Kabongo is being held back.
Myck Kabongo is being held back.

Myck Kabongo's not like any of us. He is supremely talented 19-year-old who will eventually get paid to play basketball somewhere. He runs faster, jumps higher, shoots better, and is generally better at basketball in every single way than we are. He may even have a future in the NBA. There's a reason he was highly recruited out of high school, and there's a reason why Texas was willing to let him work through his growing pains as a freshman.

Myck Kabongo is just like almost all of us. As a 19-year-old he did something that he had to have an idea was wrong. What you did may have been sneak a beer, or smoke weed, or cheat on a test in college. What Kabongo did was travel to New York for an offseason workout - in what seems to everyone who reported it to be an innocuous and wholly innocent attempt to improve his basketball skills - and let someone else foot the bill. When confronted about it by the NCAA, he followed (wrongly, I know) the knee-jerk reaction of any 19-year-old who got in trouble: he lied about it.

Word broke last night - right about the time Kabongo was celebrating an upset victory over UNC, interestingly enough - that Kabongo was going to be suspended for the rest of the year. His supsension was not just for receiving impermissible benefits - an infraction that usually carries a 3-10 game penalty - but also for "providing inaccurate information" to the NCAA investigators.

As you may have surmised at this point, this case is just as much about money as it is about honesty. I'm not arguing that it was okay for Kabongo to lie the investigators, because it clearly wasn't.

The shame of the whole situation is that Kabongo's initial action - pursuing offseason training - was unquestionably the right thing to do. Being a division one basketball player is a full-time, year-round commitment. Kabongo can't get a night job working the Taco Bell drive thru or pick up summer work mowing the grass at his local state park. His job from the moment he committed in writing was to show up on campus good and get better every day until he was out of eligibility or had moved on to a professional career. If the help he needed was in New York, why is it wrong for him to pursue that? If all his time was already committed, how was he supposed to pay for it?

This is serious stuff to these kids. If you're not getting better every day, someone is going to pass you up. The difference between a mediocre and a great offseason may be the difference between getting drafted in the first round and getting drafted in the second round, or the difference between making the NBA and heading to Europe. Those dividing lines each represent large amounts of guaranteed dollars up for grabs. A player like Kabongo has massive motivation to do everything in his power to reach his full potential as a player. A little outlay now could be worth a huge return for him in a year or two.

I don't think division one athletes should get paid, so I'm not advocating that here. What I do think is that Texas and the NCAA have enough money - the rights to broadcast just March Madness for the next 14 years went for $10.8 billion dollars in 2010 - that a kid shouldn't lose his entire season for accepting a plane ticket and a place to crash from a former teammate so he can hone his game. If the NCAA provided a certain sum for offseason travel and workouts - I'm not sure how much it should be, as I never trained like an elite athlete - and allowed schools to match it on a dollar-for-dollar basis out of their own coffers, this would provide a way for even Pat Kelsey's boys at Winthrop to benefit while still preserving the advantage in finance that big or well-run schools have earned.

Is this a perfect solution? I sincerely doubt it. Is it better than the kidney shot the NCAA just laid on Myck Kabongo and the Texas Longhorns? I would say so.