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Kentucky’s Calipari to Blame for Jay-Z's Visit, Former Analyst Packer Says

Kentucky coach John Calipari is to blame for the visit New Jersey Nets part-owner and rapper Jay-Z made to his players in their locker room March 27, former CBS college basketball analyst Billy Packer said.

“You control your locker room, and therefore you know who comes in and who doesn’t come in,” Packer said. “Without question, that is something that never should have happened.”

Jay-Z entered the locker room at the Prudential Center, in Newark, New Jersey, and mingled with players after Kentucky’s victory over the University of North Carolina that sent the Wildcats to the Final Four in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s basketball tournament.

The National Basketball Association prohibits team personnel from having contact with players who aren’t eligible for the draft, and the league opened an investigation into the incident.

In an interview on “Political Capital With Al Hunt” airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television, Packer said Calipari should have known better.

Calipari has taken three teams to the Final Four: The University of Massachusetts in 1996, Memphis University in 2008 and Kentucky this season. The Massachusetts and Memphis victories were vacated because of rules’ infractions.

“John walked away from that, and the fact is that he was not implicated in either one of those decisions,” Packer said. “But you know, you walk on a path like that, and it’s something you’d better be very careful of.”

NCAA Semifinals

Packer spoke on the eve of the NCAA men’s basketball semifinal round. Butler University plays Virginia Commonwealth University in the first game tomorrow at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The University of Kentucky plays the University of Connecticut in the second game. The winners play for the national title April 4 on CBS.

Packer declined to pick a winner, though he suggested history favored UConn. The Huskies last won the tournament in 2004 and are led by Kemba Walker, this year’s Bob Cousy winner as the nation’s top point guard. He is averaging 23.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists a game.

Packer left CBS Sports in July 2008 after announcing 34 straight Final Fours on network television. He was replaced by analyst Clark Kellogg in the network’s broadcast pairing with play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz.

Wake Forest Guard

A former guard who led Wake Forest to the Final Four in 1962, Packer began his college basketball broadcast career with NBC and was first paired with Curt Gowdy. He later worked with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire before leaving for CBS in 1982.

Packer said a new era may be dawning in men’s college basketball, in which veteran-laden mid-major programs challenge traditional powerhouses for national championships.

No. 11 seed VCU, a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, is a good example, he said.

“What VCU has done is really amazing,” Packer said. “If it were to turn out that they beat Butler, and Kentucky gets to the final” and loses to VCU, “can you imagine that this VCU team would have beaten a team from the Pac-10, the Big 10, the ACC, the Big East, and the SEC and the Big 12” to advance through the tournament and become national champion.

“I think that that would be unprecedented, obviously, and an incredible accomplishment,” he said.

Packer said traditional basketball powerhouses are being weakened by their dependence on talented yet inexperienced freshmen and sophomores who jump to the NBA after a year of play.

Three Leading Scorers

For example, Kentucky’s three leading scorers are freshmen: Brandon Knight (averaging 17.3 points, 4.2 assists), Terrance Jones (15.8 points, 8.7 rebounds) and Doron Lamb (12.3 points, 2.0 rebounds).

“The great story,” Packer said, is that “kids that are juniors and seniors on what they used to call the mid-major teams can play as well, if not better, than freshmen that are playing on some of the power conferences.

“And that’s why we’re going to see this be the direction of the future,” he said. “I think we’ll see more teams, not necessarily the same teams, get to Final Fours from mid-major conferences in years to come.”

Increasing Scholarships

To encourage players to stay in college longer, NCAA President Mark Emmert said earlier this week he would like the association to consider increasing players’ scholarships to include money for incidentals like laundry and travel home. He said he had no interest in paying players for their participation in sports. Paying for incidentals could cost between $2,000 and $2,500 per scholarship.

Packer said Title IX, which requires that female athletes be given the same opportunities and support that men’s programs receive, would prevent any pay-for-play system.

“What you’ve got to do for one you have to do for all,” he said. “Title IX would prevent you from ever having payments, sports-specific, to the male athletes.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Curtis Eichelberger in Washington at ceichelberge@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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