Clifton at center of Wall investigation

Staff WritersOctober 24, 2009 

Former Word of God star John Wall took part in Kentucky's basketball practice on Friday and is scheduled to play in the Wildcats' blue-white scrimmage on Wednesday.

"All 13 players are eligible to participate until further notice," team spokesman DeWayne Peevy said.

The question is: Will the freshman -- who was the top-ranked point guard in the incoming class of 2009 -- remain eligible?

Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive told ESPN.com on Thursday that the NCAA's agents and amateurism group is looking into the eligibility of Wall, who chose the Wildcats over Duke, Miami and Memphis, among others.

The Web site reported that Kentucky has been researching Wall's eligibility for months because Brian Clifton, who is in charge of Wall's D-One club program, was a certified agent with basketball's international governing body, for about a year. Wall, a Raleigh product, played for the team from 2006 to 2008.

Neither Kentucky nor the NCAA would comment about whether they are investigating Wall's eligibility. Wall was not available for comment.

But according to the ESPN.com report, Wall could be forced to repay expenses to Clifton and sit out three or four games if it is determined that he accepted illegal benefits under NCAA guidelines. According to the NCAA, enrolled student-athletes on campus may practice with the team while their eligibility status is being reviewed, but they may not participate in any competitions.

Clifton was the founder of Wall's club team. He was not listed as the head coach, but Clifton often sat on the bench and instructed players. According to former D-One coach Tony Edwards, Clifton was in charge of D-One's paperwork. When D-One competed in the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions in the Triangle, Clifton would pay the entry fees, according to tournament director Bob Gibbons.

Although Clifton did not return phone messages, he told CBS SportsLine.com last year that he was a certified agent with FIBA, the world governing body for basketball, for more than a year, ending in April, 2008.

Clifton is not included in the FIBA listing for agents this year. By law, agents in North Carolina are required to register with North Carolina's Athlete Agent Registration office.

Mary Wilson, the registrar in that office, which is a division of the Department of the Secretary of State, said there is no record of Clifton ever registering.

According to NCAA rules, an athlete can be ruled ineligible if he accepts transportation or other benefits from an agent "even if the agent has indicated that he or she has no interest in representing the student-athlete in the marketing of his or her athletics ability or reputation, and does not represent individuals in the student-athlete's sport."

The NCAA did not respond to specific questions about whether an agent can be affiliated with an AAU or club team; whether an agent is still considered an "agent" if he lets his certification lapse; or if all players on an agent's AAU or club team would be subject to penalties.

Edwards, who coached Wall's D-One team in 2007, said he didn't know anything about any possible violations or whether they applied to other players on the team. He said he believed the issue being investigated was a trip Clifton and Wall made to Kentucky before Wildcats coach John Calipari was hired.

Wall made at least two unofficial visits to Lexington, Ky., before he committed.

D-One paid for its AAU trips with funding from shoe companies, private sponsors, fundraisers and parents' donations, Edwards said. "All that went into a nonprofit account, and that's how we paid for our team," he added.

Duke freshman forward Ryan Kelly, a Raleigh native who played at Ravenscroft, was Wall's teammate on the club team for at least three years.

Kelly's mother, Doreen Kelly, said Ryan's amateur eligibility and academic credentials have been approved by the NCAA. She said she hasn't been contacted by the NCAA regarding Ryan's eligibility and doesn't expect to be.

"I have absolutely zero worries in regard to Ryan as a student-athlete," she said. "None whatsoever."

Duke associate athletic director Jon Jackson confirmed that Ryan Kelly's academic and amateur eligibility had been cleared by the NCAA.

Word of God chief operating officer Mitch Summerfield said the NCAA had visited Word of God and there were no eligibility issues stemming from his time at the Raleigh high school.

Summerfield said he hadn't heard anything about this matter until Thursday.

"We had no knowledge of Brian ever being an agent," Summerfield said. "He had never displayed anything with John that would have led us to believe that he was agent. ... We stand behind John, though, and support him."

Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader contributed to this report.

robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8944

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