The main question college coaches would ask me Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner had long described as a close friend, is this: Why in the world did Pastner let this guy get so close to his program?, whom
It's obviously a fair question.
My answer was always that, first and foremost, I did believe Pastner's friendship with Bell was initially rooted in a good place and sparked by good intentions. Bell had credited Pastner with helping him overcome a prescription-drug problem, and the two reconnected, in January 2016, at a time when they both needed what the other could provide. Bell desired a purpose that was found by the opportunity to be around a college basketball program. And Pastner, who was in what turned out to be his final months at Memphis, was in search of somebody, anybody, who would shower him with encouragement and support because, at that point, the overwhelming majority of the Memphis fanbase, and by extension the city, had turned on him in an ugly way.
Bell needed Pastner.
And Pastner needed Bell.
So the two started spending lots of time together -- and Bell was a fixture around the Memphis program for the rest of the 2015-16 season. Then, when Pastner was offered the Georgia Tech job in April 2016, and Memphis paid him $1.255 million to please take it, Bell quickly became a fixture around the Georgia Tech program and used the unusual access Pastner provided to develop relationships with multiple players that ultimately turned improper.
And now Pastner is paying a price.
The NCAA announced on Thursday that it has NCAA Tournament are slim anyway -- so who cares about a postseason ban? But it's still not good and plenty bad for Pastner's career and reputation., put the school on four years probation, placed recruiting restrictions on the staff, forced the program to vacate wins, and fined the ACC institution an undetermined amount of money. It's not the death penalty, obviously. And it's fair to note the odds of Georgia Tech making the 2020
(Sidenote: This development also isn't good for Kansas, which was charged by the NCAA with more serious violations than Georgia Tech earlier this week. If the NCAA shows any kind of consistency, it's reasonable to assume KU will get at least what Georgia Tech just got -- and probably more -- unless it can successfully argue that Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola was not a Kansas booster. Good luck, as they say, with that.)
, some were quick to dismiss him as a crazy criminal whose word could not be trusted. But my point was always the same: A crazy criminal with receipts and text messages isn't much different than a sane saint with receipts and text messages. Put another way, Bell, regardless of what you think of him as a human, had undeniable proof that he was super-close with Pastner, deep inside the program and guilty of committing major violations. So once he turned on Pastner, and provided his evidence, what happened Thursday was always going to happen. The only thing up for debate was how much Pastner knew about Bell's conduct -- and reasonable minds can disagree on that. But it should be noted that the NCAA did not hit Pastner specifically as hard as it theoretically could've if it would've charged him for failing to monitor his close friend. That would've likely triggered an in-season suspension for Pastner. So the NCAA not going there is a low-key win for the embattled coach who has failed to lead his team to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past five years.
Either way, what a mess.
Whether Josh Pastner was just a nice person trying to give a troubled man a purpose, or an up-against-it coach using an obsessed friend to help violate rules, or both, is something I'll let the message boards tackle. But, regardless, it's clear Pastner's motivation, whatever it might've been, was misguided and costly. Allowing a person like Ron Bell the type of access he was allowed was always weird and by extension risky. It was a head-scratcher from the jump that eventually turned into a headache. And it ultimately became the core of an NCAA case that cost student-athletes who had nothing to do with any of it the opportunity to compete this season for what is every college basketball players' dream -- a trip to the NCAA Tournament.