As we noted earlier this afternoon, NC State is reportedly under NCAA investigation for allegedly making illegal contact with guard Devonte Graham, who signed a letter of intent with Appalachian State last fall. Graham would like out of his LOI after seeing his stock rise in the meantime, but App's staff won't let him go, in part because of their apparent belief that NCSU tampered.
Mark Gottfried denied these allegations on Friday.
"We absolutely didn't tamper," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried told ESPN's Andy Katz. "We had zero contact with the kid. He played with my son. I went out of my way not to (contact)."
Graham also said he hadn't had any conversations with Gottfried, whose son also played for Broughton High last season, or anyone on N.C. State's staff about joining the program after he signed with Appalachian State.
At minimum, I think we can be pretty certain that the NCAA is in fact looking into NC State's involvement, because Goodman's sources are usually outstanding. We know for sure ASU contacted the NCAA, from the statement the school released today:
As our coaching staff fully expected, Devonte had a terrific senior season last winter and, accordingly, drew the interest of programs from what are widely recognized as "power conferences." However, due to his binding agreement with Appalachian State, other programs were not permitted by NCAA rules to contact him, be it directly or through people claiming to represent his interests. Due to our concerns that these rules were not followed and the fact that we had turned away all other potential student-athletes that could have capably filled his spot on the roster, we denied his request for a release from his binding Letter of Intent. We also made the NCAA aware of our concerns.
On the contrary to the opinion that we are holding a student-athlete "hostage," we feel like we are acting in the best interests of all student-athletes and Division I programs that operate under the principle that a National Letter of Intent is a binding agreement meant to be upheld by both the student-athlete and the institution. When that principle is not upheld by a small number of people with selfish motives, it is to the detriment of the student-athlete, the vast majority of Division I institutions (particularly mid-major programs) and all of college basketball.
While we understand that it is en vogue for the media to hammer away at the perceived bureaucracy of the NCAA, recruiting rules and guidelines are in place to protect student-athletes and NCAA institutions alike. Without them, recruiting would be utter chaos. Also, while we greatly appreciate the advocacy of the national media covering men's basketball, especially related to reforms in recruiting practices as a whole, we are confident that those who have shared their opinions over the past 24 hours are not aware of the full circumstances in this particular situation. If all of the facts regarding the situation and how it has unfolded since last spring were to come to light, we believe that the opinions that we are holding a student-athlete "hostage" would change. It would be very disappointing if not.
All of that being said, the situation is now in the hands of the NCAA and will be resolved by its governance. Therefore, we will not have any further comment on the matter.
You might be wondering why NCSU would allegedly tamper with a guard like Graham given the roster situation; according to Goodman, the tampering happened while there was concern that Tyler Lewis would transfer. This is plausible, of course. Graham asked for his release seven months ago. (Also, Dez Lee didn't commit until April. Not entirely related, but another potential roster factor.)
The avenues for tampering are obvious enough in this case--Graham played at Broughton, a stone's throw from campus, with one of Gottfried's sons. Additionally, there's already some history regarding tampering allegations with this staff. South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris was barred by the school from going to NC State in 2012. NCSU assistant Orlando Early was on the staff in Columbia before coming to Raleigh.
Again, the connections made the allegation plausible, but nothing was ever proven in that case, and it is unlikely anything will be proven in Graham's case. And there is absolutely no question that ASU is aware of this detail:
@GoodmanESPN They actually can’t do that unless he enrolls. There’s a way around it, but no guarantee he doesn’t end up at NC State.— John Infante (@John_Infante) September 27, 2013
The Mountaineers cannot fully ensure that Graham doesn't enroll at NC State if they let him go. So if they are in fact convinced that the Wolfpack is guilty of tampering, this could be one reason why the kid hasn't been released from his LOI. I can't imagine Graham would ever end up in Raleigh, especially after this increasingly public mess. Imagine what a horrible look that would be for NC State.
An important note here is that Appalachian State is coached by former UNC basketball player Jason Capel. Maybe my man holds some grudges. Maybe NC State just ended up an easy scapegoat for App State's decision to keep Graham on the hook against his will. Or Gottfried and Graham lied when asked about the situation, which is entirely possible as well. It's just too bad that, for whatever reason, Graham is stuck right now.