Nobody comes out looking good in Georgia Tech impermissible benefits saga

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

Here’s a friendly reminder for high-major college basketball coaches: Make sure you call your bag man on his birthday.

Forgetting something so simple can apparently transform a trusted confidante into a dangerous enemy with an axe to grind.

That’s the biggest takeaway from a CBSSports.com report detailing how a former friend of Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner allegedly provided extra benefits in violation of NCAA rules to basketball players Tadric Jackson and Josh Okogie. Georgia Tech announced last Thursday that it had self-reported the violations to the NCAA and suspended both players indefinitely.

Ron Bell, 51, provided CBSSports.com with documents that show he paid for $750 worth of shoes, clothes and plane tickets for Okogie and $525 worth of similar items for Jackson, totals similar to what Georgia Tech reported to the NCAA. He also insisted he gave more impermissible benefits to the players in the form of hundreds of dollars of meals and groceries.

Georgia Tech said last week that Josh Pastner reported the violations to the school’s compliance office on Oct. 2 as soon as he became aware of them. Bell disputed that, telling CBSSports.com that Pastner only reported them on Oct. 2 because Bell had threatened to expose the Georgia Tech coach during a phone conversation that day.

An Arizona resident now in the real estate business, Bell is a recovering addict who spent more than four years in prison from 2009 to 2013. He told The Memphis Commercial Appeal in 2016 that he credits Pastner for helping him get clean.

Why would Bell turn on a longtime friend who he first met two decades ago when Pastner was a player at Arizona? Bell said he had a falling out with Pastner that stemmed from the coach failing to compensate him sufficiently for his efforts to help the program and not calling him on his birthday earlier this year.

“I just started to realize he’s not a friend,” Bell told CBSSports.com. “I told him ‘I hold your career in my hands. You’re going to show me respect.’ … I said, ‘I’ve been protecting you for two years. And if you don’t watch yourself, if I start self-reporting, you’re going to be coaching high school basketball.’ And he said, ‘Are you threatening me?’ And I remember it like it was yesterday. I said, ‘Josh, I don’t make threats. Everything I say I’m going to do, I do it.'”

As is often the case with tales of college basketball’s sordid underbelly, nobody emerges from this story looking good.

Pastner, long hailed as one of college basketball’s most squeaky clean coaches, now will have his name dragged through the mud. At best he provided a man of questionable character access to his program at Georgia Tech and Memphis. At worst he knowingly orchestrated a scheme to provide impermissible benefits to some of his top players in hopes it would help keep them from transferring.

Okogie and Jackson aren’t wholly blameless here either. They know what’s permissible under NCAA rules, yet they jeopardized their own seasons and that of their team by accepting benefits in violation of those bylaws.

Worst of all is Bell, who comes across as a petty, vindictive shakedown artist. When he’s unable to extort Pastner into paying for his silence, he instead threatens to try to ruin the coach’s career by outing him to the NCAA.

The dumbest part of all this is that it’s not Pastner or Bell who will suffer most. Bell will lose nothing besides Pastner’s friendship and Pastner has enough plausible deniability to avoid major penalties.

It’s the players who instead will face the brunt of the punishment. Okogie and Jackson are likely to miss a significant chunk of the season while all this is sorted out, a damaging blow to a Georgia Tech team with aspirations of making the NCAA tournament this season after a surprise 21-win season last year under Pastner.

Okogie led Georgia Tech in scoring last season at 16.1 points per game and carved out a role for himself on the gold medal-winning USA Basketball U-19 team this past summer. Jackson was Georgia Tech’s third leading scorer last season at 12.1 points per game. Neither traveled with the rest of their teammates to China, where Georgia Tech will open the season Friday against UCLA.

All this because Pastner apparently trusted the wrong man and then forgot to call him on his birthday.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!