Brandon Bender has ties to runner
Ken Caldwell has had a sidekick in recent months -- former Louisville basketball player Brandon Bender.
The 6-foot-10 Bender, who left the Cardinals as a freshman in 2002 under acrimonious circumstances, transferred to NAIA Robert Morris College in Chicago. He went pro early from there, signing with agent Mike Naiditch. Multiple sources say Bender has worked with Naiditch over the years, trying to secure clients, but Bender has denied it.
After an overseas career, Bender returned to the U.S. and coached some AAU ball while also trying to establish himself as a middleman with recruits. Multiple Southeastern Conference coaches told ESPN.com that in 2009-10, Bender contacted them trying to strike a deal for Turkish big man Enes Kanter, who wound up at Kentucky. The SEC coaches said Bender told them he could deliver Kanter.
More recently, Bender has been tied to several other recruits. But he says he hasn't broken any NCAA rules and is simply trying to get a break in the coaching profession.
"I haven't done anything wrong," Bender told ESPN.com on April 22. "If a kid calls me and says, 'Brandon, help me find a school,' I'll do it. I'm trying to do the right thing. I don't want no distractions. I just want to get into college coaching."
Bender told ESPN.com he does not know who Caldwell is. But Caldwell readily admitted his relationship with Bender, and several sources say the two have worked together.
"Brandon is a friend of [Caldwell's]," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. "They are two of several guys who, when we got to Chicago, said, 'Hey, if you need players we can help you.' ... They kept saying they could help us get players, but nothing ever panned out. It was a lot of hot air. Then we started getting calls from the media and other coaches saying those guys were saying they represented DePaul and were working for DePaul.
"We don't have any association with those guys now. We thought that was important for the image of our program. Those guys certainly were not spreading a positive image." Bender was in Louisville last week for the Derby Festival All-Star Classic. When interviewed by ESPN, Bender denied he was kicked out of the players' hotel at the event despite the fact that earlier that day, an ESPN.com reporter was with Derby Festival recruiting chairman Dan Owens when Bender called him to complain about being kicked out.
During that phone conversation, Owens told Bender he had concerns about Bender's reputed ties to an agent and said it was inappropriate for him to be in players' rooms.
During the all-star game, Bender sat in seats reserved for family and friends of the players. Game officials said he was interacting with several players in the days leading up to the game, but Bender said the only reason he was there was his relationship with Kansas signee Braeden Anderson.
"I'm here to see that kid," Bender said, pointing at Anderson. "That's it." Bender said he coached the forward from Calgary, Alberta, last summer on a Canadian AAU team in Las Vegas. Anderson signed in November with DePaul, but then asked out of his letter in January -- after Purnell parted ways with Caldwell and Bender -- and the release was granted. During the time when Anderson was uncommitted, he spent a couple of weeks in Louisville -- an unusual move during the school year for a Canadian attending a prep school in Massachusetts. Bender and Anderson both said Anderson has cousins in Louisville, and that he stayed with them during his extended visit to the city.
But when asked his cousins' names, Anderson paused for a long time before giving an answer. The cousins did not appear to be present at the KFC Yum! Center last week for the Derby Festival game.
A source said Anderson was staying during his visit with an associate of Caldwell's and Bender's, former Louisville football player Rodney Carter. The source said Bender had Anderson stay there because it would set off alarms if the player stayed with Bender. Anderson acknowledged knowing Carter and said he was a "good friend" whom he met through his cousins.
During that time, Anderson took an unofficial visit to Kentucky, but the Wildcats didn't offer him a scholarship. He signed in the spring with Kansas and denied Bender in any way influenced his decision. "If I [listened to Bender], I wouldn't be going to Kansas," Anderson said. "I don't know him real well. I talked to him maybe a few times, maybe sent him a message on Facebook a few times.
"He stopped by [the team hotel], said he had mail for me from other schools. I chucked it. I'm going to Kansas."
Information for this story also provided by ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil.