Report: NCAA investigating Bledsoe

Updated: May 29, 2010, 3:13 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- The NCAA is looking into the academic history and recruitment of former Kentucky star Eric Bledsoe, The New York Times reported Friday night.

The investigation is centered on Bledsoe's high school transcripts, payments made for an apartment shared by him and his mother, and whether his high school coach in Birmingham, Ala., demanded money from schools recruiting him, according to the story on the newspaper's website.

Bledsoe

Bledsoe declared for the NBA draft after one season at Kentucky, where he averaged 11.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

The NCAA does not discuss ongoing investigations, and Bledsoe and Kentucky coach John Calipari were unavailable to comment.

Kentucky has not been contacted by the NCAA about the Bledsoe investigation, a source from the school told ESPN.com's Andy Katz. The source also said Bledsoe would have been academically eligible at Kentucky had he returned for his sophomore season.

The source added that Kentucky had no knowledge of any illicit benefits given to Bledsoe prior to his enrolling.

Kentucky released a statement on Saturday: "Often high profile student-athletes are selected for an extensive prospective student-athlete [PSA] review. Eric Bledsoe participated in the normal academic review process and also an extensive PSA review by the NCAA Eligibility Center and was cleared academically."

Several college coaches who recruited Bledsoe told ESPN.com they seriously questioned whether he would meet NCAA eligibility standards based on transcripts reviewed after his sophomore and junior years of high school. Following his junior year, Bledsoe maintained only a 1.92 grade-point average in core courses, well shy of the 2.5 he would eventually graduate with.

ESPN.com reviewed copies of Bledsoe's transcript after his sophomore and junior year, as well as his senior year at Parker High School. Though coaches projected Bledsoe as a non-qualifier entering his final year, he performed markedly better in the classroom as a senior with a college basketball scholarship on the line, taking a heavier workload that included a night school class and an online course to improve an earlier grade.

His grade-point average improved significantly after scoring an A in an online biology course, which replaced a D from his sophomore year. And, after failing to achieve an A in his first three years, Bledsoe scored two others in his senior year at Parker -- Algebra 2 and Algebra 3, the latter taken in night classes.

Steve Ward, who coached Bledsoe at Hayes High, acknowledges his former star guard had plenty of academic work to accomplish when the school closed after his junior year.

"When he was at Hayes he was borderline," Ward told ESPN.com. "When he left me I don't know what happened."

Asked if he was surprised that Bledsoe qualified, Ward said: "Not really. I knew if he applied himself he would have been able to. So I wasn't totally surprised."

While Bledsoe's transcript has been subject of speculation amongst college coaches, it passed review by the Alabama High School Athletic Association after his transfer to Parker High became a topic of much debate two years ago in Birmingham. It also presumably met requirements of the NCAA Eligibility Center before he was permitted to play this past season at Kentucky.

High school and college administrators questioned about Bledsoe's turnaround told ESPN.com that it's not unusual for athletes to show far more attention to academics and requirements to attain eligibility late in their high school careers. That awareness is said to include online and night classes, both of which Bledsoe took advantage of.

The New York Times report said a woman who rented a home to Bledsoe and his mother claimed that at least three months' rent was paid for by A.H. Parker coach Maurice Ford, which would violate NCAA rules, and an anonymous college coach said Ford asked for money to recruit Bledsoe.

Ford denied any wrongdoing, telling the Times: "I'm a poor black man. And when one black man tries to help another black man, there's always something wrong."

Bledsoe signed with Kentucky and helped the Wildcats go 35-3 last season, winning the Southeastern Conference championship and earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They lost to West Virginia in the East Regional final.

Most projections have Bledsoe going late in the first round or early in the second in the June draft. His teammate John Wall could be the No. 1 overall pick, and former Wildcats Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins also are expected to go in the first round.

ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz, ESPN.com investigative reporter Mike Fish and The Associated Press contributed to this report.