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UK recruit Knight a game-changer even before he enters school

Two weeks ago, word spread across the country: Brandon Knight, one of the top high school basketball players in the country, had signed a Letter of Intent to play at Kentucky.

But he hadn't.

Knight signed an "aid agreement," which is a different animal entirely. It means that Kentucky owes him a full scholarship for next year. This has been widely reported as Knight "committing" to Kentucky.

But he didn't really do that, either.

Knight did not commit to anything. If he was truly committed to Kentucky, he could have signed a Letter of Intent, like virtually every other top player in the country. Players often commit to schools, but they almost always do it during a time of year when they are not allowed to sign a Letter of Intent. Knight did it instead of signing a Letter of Intent.

Nobody knew quite what to make of Knight's pseudo-commitment. He said he was going to Kentucky, he signed something with Kentucky ... it seemed like a technicality.

But it isn't.

Knight gamed the system. The whole point of signing with a school is to enforce a two-way commitment: The school and the prospect swear to love each other, in sickness and in health, in the NCAA tournament and the NIT. Schools can take scholarships away after players spend a year on campus (which I don't like, but that's another column). The Letter of Intent ends the recruiting process.

By signing an aid agreement, Knight forced Kentucky to make all the vows. The Wildcats are committed to him, but he is not committed to them.

This is perfectly legal, and my first thought was: Good for Knight. Every year, coaches sign a batch of recruits, then bolt for another job and the recruits don't find out until they turn off the Xbox and see the news stream across the bottom of their TV screen. Players don't have much power in college sports. Knight found a way to take a few chips away from the house. Good for him.

Still, I must ask:

Why?

"My parents advised me to do it," Knight told the Lexington Herald-Leader when he committed to Kentucky. "I'm not sure why."

I asked Knight's high school coach, David Beckerman, why Knight signed an aid agreement instead of a traditional Letter of Intent. He said "I don't know" and also "I don't know why" and not much else.

So what we have here is a kid who ran an end-around on the system ... and nobody knows why! It's like Knight just woke up, bought a bunch of stock that happened to double in price, and gosh, he doesn't even know what that company does, he just thought the name sounded cool.

Either that ... or somebody is in his ear telling him to keep his options open.

I don't care how many people say they don't know why Knight did it. Somebody knows why. You can bet that several people know why. They are just keeping their mouths shut about it.

So: why?

Well, rumors follow John Calipari wherever he goes, like mosquitoes in a swamp. The rumors are not always true, of course -- that's what makes them rumors. Many are not true. But one prominent rumor is that Calipari will leave Kentucky for the NBA, possibly to coach LeBron James wherever LeBron ends up this summer. James, as you probably know, is buddies with William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley, who is Calipari's ... uh, friend. LeBron showed up at Rupp Arena this year, even wore Kentucky colors. He and Cal are buds.

I think it would be foolish for LeBron to force a team to hire Calipari -- there would be significant p.r. backlash and Calipari's pro record is lousy. But if I were the Cavs, I would absolutely hire Calipari if it meant keeping LeBron. Heck, I would make LeBron's mother my head coach if it mean keeping LeBron. (I'm not even kidding: I'd hire Gloria, sign LeBron, fire her when it turned into an utter debacle and deal with the fallout then. Yeah, it would be embarrassing, but it would still be better than losing the best player in the world.)

Again: this is a RUMOR. But it might be the rumor that spurred Knight to make his unusual pseudo-commitment. And if it's not that rumor, it's something else. I don't think this happened by accident. It is too unusual.

If you lay out all the scenarios that could unfold here -- Calipari going to the NBA, Knight changing his mind and going to another school, Knight leaving for Europe, Calipari and Rick Pitino deciding to make nice and star in a sitcom together -- the most likely one is that Calipari stays at Kentucky, Knight enrolls there and earns All-America honors and then Knight becomes a top-10 pick in the 2011 draft.

And if that happens, nobody will remember that Knight signed an aid agreement instead of a Letter of Intent.

But what if Calipari leaves and Knight chooses another school? What if Knight just decides he really wants to play somewhere else? What would happen then?

Chaos, that's what. Next year, a whole bunch of recruits would try the same trick, and soon they would take it to a new level: lock in a scholarship offer with an "aid agreement," then keep shopping around for a new school.

A year ago, when Calipari coached Memphis, he inserted clauses in his recruits' Letters of Intent that allowed them to escape Memphis if Calipari bolted. It was clever and self-serving. The NCAA banned the practice last summer.

I imagine the NCAA will look into these aid agreements if they get too popular. The NCAA does not like chaos, except when choosing a college football national champion.

In the meantime ... well, this was, at least, a very strange way to choose a school.

Brandon Knight supposedly has the talent to be a game-changer. He might have changed the game already, without even playing in one.

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