Tom Keegan: Paranoia haunts cheating college basketball coaches more now than ever

FBI seal

Put yourself inside the mind of a cheating college basketball coach who to his knowledge hasn’t yet been implicated in the bribery/fraud scandal that rocked the college basketball world with 10 arrests last week.

What do you do if your phone rings and caller ID informs you that the person on the other end is:

A shoe-company rep who has arranged for a recruit to attend your school?

A “handler” of one of your players who fed him to your program with the understanding that payments would show up on the first of the month and you fear he’s calling to ask why you’re late?

The runner of an agent who has used you and compensated you in the past to feed one of your players to him?

A representative of a really good player committed to one of the schools whose assistant coach was arrested, you’ve dealt with him in the past and it was mutually beneficial for all parties, and he likely is calling to test your interest in the prospect?

The answer is you don’t answer your phone. You stare at it and hope you never see that number again, or at least until the FBI probe into college basketball’s seedy underbelly moves from active to a chapter in the history books. It feels as if “ongoing investigation,” means it will be going on for a long time.

What if the guy’s phone is bugged? What if your phone is bugged? What if not answering it means you don’t get a recruit you might have been able to land cleanly if only you had answered?

It’s a tougher time now than ever for cheaters. Coaches by nature have a healthy degree of paranoia, which benefits them in keeping recruiting and game strategies hidden. Paranoia in cheating coaches strikes even deeper because they have so much to hide.

At the moment, their paranoia appears justified.

Two of the 10 taken away in handcuffs — Merl Code and Jim Gatto — are Adidas executives facing charges that could put them away for decades if they don’t put whistles in their mouths and start blowing away. But it’s not just cheating coaches from Adidas schools who must worry. Code came to Adidas from Nike in 2015, so he’ll no doubt be mined for information on that front as well. The more Code and Gatto share, the lighter their sentences.

If they sing, it will come down to whether enough proof exists to make a case against those singled out by men throwing themselves at the mercy of the court by using others as human shields.

The cheating coaches can let their phones ring without answering them, but if the feds come calling, that’s not an option.