Former Kansas Jayhawks star Ben McLemore’s AAU coach, Daniel Cobb, told USA Today that he took two cash payments of $5,000 from Rodney Blackstock, the founder and CEO of Hooplife Academy. Blackstock’s company is a sports mentoring organization based in Greensboro, N.C.
Cobb says he also received three all-expense paid trips to Los Angeles — and that a cousin of McLemore’s, Richard Boyd, accompanied him on two of them — for meetings in January and February with sports agents and financial advisers hoping to represent McLemore if he left for the NBA after his redshirt freshman season at Kansas. McLemore, 20, declared for the NBA draft on April 9.
Cobb provided travel itineraries and photos taken of he and Boyd on the trips, however, Boyd denied making the trips with Cobb.
“No, I did not (go to Los Angeles),” Boyd told USA TODAY Sports. “I don’t know anything about that. The rumors, that’s why I don’t want to do interviews because people misinterpret stuff. … There is too much confusion. Everyone is trying to control this and that.”
A person who became close to Blackstock to help him build relationships with players and their families confirmed knowledge of Blackstock’s payments to Cobb. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity so he would not harm his relationships with those involved.
Cobb went on to say that McLemore himself had very little, if any, knowledge at all of the AAU coach’s dealings with Blackstock.
After sitting out his first season on the Lawrence campus, McLemore’s NBA draft stock soared during a redshirt freshman campaign in which he led the Jayhawks to a Sweet 16 berth in the NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot-5, 185-pound McLemore averaged 15.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists and he is now considered a surefire first round draft pick.
Such a high draft pick is worth millions to both player and agent. Thus, Blackstock’s intentions were clear, USA Today reports.
Cobb says Blackstock paid him money because he wanted Cobb to steer McLemore toward Blackstock. Cobb, 41, has known McLemore since the player was in the sixth grade, and he began coaching McLemore when the player was 15 years old. Cobb also said he has helped the family financially from time to time, paying bills and buying McLemore clothes and food. Cobb was on McLemore’s guest list for five home games this season, and he said he also attended some road games.
Everything here is a blatant violation of McLemore’s amateur status as a collegiate student-athlete. Most fans tend to joke around about the fact that players may or may not be paid, but this is an extremely serious matter for both the highly respected and decorated basketball program, as well as the school itself.
In a statement on Saturday, Kansas Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger said, “Late this afternoon we received an inquiry regarding the relationship between the family of Ben McLemore and a third party, Rodney Blackstock. This was the first time this inquiry had been presented to us. In accordance with the conditions and obligations of its membership in the NCAA and the Big 12 Conference, the University of Kansas will review the information and process it with both of those entities if necessary. We are not in a position to comment further at this time.”
As for why Cobb would choose to come forward at this time, the coach claims benevolent motivations. He says he wants to help players in the same position of McLemore and to raise awareness regarding the selfish, shark-ish tendencies of professional sports agencies.
“I don’t want to hurt the family, I want to protect the family,” Cobb says. “If there had to be a bad guy, if there had to be a fall guy, let it be me, as opposed to ruining a great kid who has busted his butt to get where he is. Let me be the crooked AAU coach. I was willing to take the brunt of it for the sake of this kid. I wanted to keep him pure.”
“I am an example of someone who has made bad choices but has rededicated myself to doing right by helping the kids in my community so they don’t make the same mistakes I made,” Cobb said. “By no means am I perfect. But I have been committed to the kids in my community, and this is the way I give back.”
One of the “bad choices” Cobb is alluding to is two years in jail because of fraudulent use of a credit card.
The jail time served is a fact, but pretty much everything else right now being reported is conjecture. Further investigation will prove whether or not Blackstock in fact paid Cobb the aforementioned $10,000 and it will prove how much McLemore knew during his two total years at Kansas.
However, until then, McLemore, at only 20 years of age, suffers. Those who are supposed to be protecting him may, or may not, have been using him for monetary gain.
At the very least, Cobb understands that much.
“There is a lot of damage that has been done in a short amount of time,” Cobb says. “And what hurts me the most is Ben. This is supposed to be the happiest time in this kid’s life. It’s not. And it’s coming from the people who supposedly love him.”