By Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insiders
The NCAA has contacted each school recruiting the nation's top-ranked high school basketball prospect, Shabazz Muhammad, and made them aware of financial dealings that could compromise Muhammad's amateur status, multiple sources have told CBSSports.com.
The sources told CBSSports.com that the NCAA is specifically interested in connections between Muhammad's family and financial advisers Benjamin Lincoln and Ken Kavanagh. Lincoln is a North Carolina-based financial planner whose brother, Geoff Lincoln, is an assistant coach for Muhammad's high school team in Las Vegas. Kavanagh is a New York-based financial planner.
Muhammad's father, Ron Holmes, acknowledged to CBSSports.com in multiple phone calls this week that he knows both men and has been questioned by an NCAA investigator about the relationships. Sources told CBSSports.com Lincoln paid for at least two of Muhammad's unofficial visits to college campuses and that Kavanagh has helped fund Muhammad's summer team, the Las Vegas-based Dream Vision Foundation. Holmes, who has hired legal counsel to assist with getting the NCAA inquiry resolved, confirmed both statements as true to CBSSports.com.
|Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and Duke are among the schools recruiting Shabazz Muhammad. (Louis Lopez/MaxPreps)|
"We hit it off immediately and became very close friends," Holmes told CBSSports.com in an exclusive interview. "When Benjamin and I met in 2007, my son Shabazz was in the seventh grade. Back in 2007, none of us knew that Shabazz would be able to play college ball, let alone be as good as he is now. In fact, I don't remember any colleges contacting us until Shabazz was in the ninth or 10th grade.
"By 2010, Shabazz was getting a lot of interest from high major colleges, including North Carolina and Duke," he said. "We had an opportunity to take unofficial visits to both schools in North Carolina. Benjamin offered to pay for our plane tickets and hotel room. When we went on the visits, we filled out the NCAA compliance forms and fully disclosed that our family friend, Benjamin Lincoln, had paid for the trips.
"When we were approached by the NCAA, we cooperated naturally," he continued. "We had told the truth from the beginning and had disclosed everything. It is frustrating that we have been honest and above board from the start and now there are those who are questioning what we did. ... I don't think we've done anything wrong."
Reached by phone, Lincoln told CBSSports.com that he did indeed fund at least two of Muhammad's unofficial visits but insisted he believes his involvement is within NCAA rules.
"I consider Ronald Holmes and Faye Muhammad as two of my dearest friends," Benjamin Lincoln told CBSSports.com. "I have had a close relationship for almost five years. For 10 years, they have lived in Las Vegas, the same city as my brother, so we were able to see each other often. As Shabazz began the process of looking at colleges, I offered to help Ronald and the family take unofficial visits to two colleges. I simply was trying to help the family I care so much about. It is important that this be resolved quickly and not negatively affect Shabazz in any way."
Kavanagh attended many of Muhammad's high school events this season and acknowledged to CBSSports.com this week by phone that he'd like to someday represent Muhammad, who is projected as a future lottery pick of the NBA Draft. Still, Kavanagh said he believes he has violated no rules by donating money to Muhammad's summer program because he has known Dream Vision coach Clay Williams, who is Muhammad's godfather and Holmes' close friend, for more than two decades. Kavanagh thinks he has a preexisting relationship with the family that allows him to operate in this manner and within NCAA guidelines.
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Kavanagh, originally from the San Diego area, said he used to play basketball against Williams and Holmes at the La Jolla YMCA.
"I first became involved with Dream Vision this past summer," Kavanagh said.
And why has he traveled with Muhammad's high school team?
"Every chance I can I'll watch Shabazz play," Kavanagh answered. "I never thought it would lead to so much attention because I've known Clay so long."
Sources told CBSSports.com the NCAA is skeptical that these relationships -- and the financial assistance they've provided Muhammad's summer team and family -- are legitimately unrelated to Muhammad's athletic ability, which could in turn compromise Muhammad's amateur status. That's among the reasons the NCAA contacted schools still pursuing Muhammad and essentially informed them that though they are free to continue recruiting the 6-foot-5 wing, they should understand that there are potential amateurism issues.
Another interesting twist to Muhammad's recruitment is the perceived role of Adidas.
Industry sources have claimed for more than a year that Muhammad would almost certainly land at UCLA because Adidas is heavily invested in Muhammad through its sponsorship of Dream Vision, and because the Bruins are one of the shoe company's flagship programs. Some have even suggested Holmes is on payroll with Adidas, but he emphatically denied that to CBSSports.com. But Holmes did acknowledge that his daughter, Asia Muhammad, has a contract with Adidas. She's a professional tennis player ranked 386th in the world.
"Now you can quote me on this," Holmes said. "What I have to say is that [Adidas] has never once come at me about 'Bazz going to an Adidas school. They'll say if he goes to an Adidas school like UCLA or Kansas that means they'll get to see him more because [they] go and watch those games. But they've never come at me like that. Adidas has never done anything they weren't supposed to do."
Muhammad is still considering six schools: UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky, UNLV, Duke and USC.
"We do not think we've done anything wrong," Holmes said. "But if we have, we'll deal with it."