WKU taking ‘business as usual’ approach after Morton allegations

Cole Claybourn

If WKU’s men’s basketball season started today, assistant coach Jake Morton would be on the sidelines.

Athletics Director Ross Bjork said in the wake of Morton’s alleged involvement in a Miami (Fla.) athletics scandal involving impermissible benefits to athletes, WKU will operate normally until further notice from the NCAA.

“We have to talk about academics, we have to talk about basketball and we have to recruit,” Bjork told the Herald on Friday. “So, to me, until we’re contacted (by the NCAA), until we have any more information, we just have to go business as usual and hope that it doesn’t become a distraction. He’s innocent until proven otherwise.

“All we know is that there was an article. That’s it. That’s all we know, and that there’s pictures. Beyond that, there’s nothing else we can do.”

Morton, who was an assistant coach at Miami from 2007-2011 and was hired by WKU in June, was accused in a Yahoo! report earlier this month of helping Miami athletics booster Nevin Shapiro set up a transaction for $10,000 to help secure the commitment of basketball recruit DeQuan Jones.

Shapiro said in the Yahoo! report that Morton set up the transaction in 2007 and became a middle-man for funds.

Photos of Morton with Shapiro and other Miami assistant coaches in Shapiro’s VIP suite at a Miami night club, where Miami football recruits were present, were featured in the Yahoo! report. 

The NCAA contacted WKU on Aug. 17 — a day after the Yahoo! report was published — and said they plan to interview Morton, but no date has been set for when that meeting will take place.

In an effort to prevent the situation from being a distraction, Bjork said WKU contacted the NCAA themselves to try and expedite the investigation. The NCAA has yet to respond to the request.

Bjork said the NCAA’s priority right now is to determine the eligibility of current student-athletes at Miami, meaning it could be a while until the NCAA gets to Morton.

“We can’t conduct our own investigations,” Bjork said. “We can’t speak to Jake about the case. We’re precluded by the NCAA bylaws from doing any of those things.”

No matter what the NCAA decides for Morton, President Gary Ransdell told the Herald earlier this month that the WKU basketball program doesn’t expect any ramifications from the NCAA.

“That’s a University of Miami problem and to an extent it involves Jake Morton,” Ransdell said. “We checked and did all of our homework before Jake was hired. Jake denies that he had anything to do with what (Shapiro) is saying took place.

“The NCAA will sort that out, but that’s a University of Miami problem that doesn’t involve us. Obviously Jake Morton is our employee, so we’re interested in his well-being. But beyond that we just don’t have anything to say about it.”

Morton left Miami after Frank Haith, who was also named in the Yahoo! report, took the head coaching job at Missouri. The new job and new location prompted Haith to look for assistant coaches with more of a regional connection, otherwise Morton would have followed Haith to Missouri, Bjork said.

But Morton ultimately found himself out of a job. That was, until WKU contacted him this summer and eventually hired him.

There was a connection in the hire.

Bjork was the Associate Athletic Director at Miami from 2003-2005 and was involved with the hiring process of Haith. Through his relationship with Haith, Bjork met Morton when WKU played Florida International in football in Miami last October.

“We went over to Miami and took a tour of their facilities and took some donors over there,” Bjork said. “Frank showed us around and Jake was there.

“When we hired him, we did our background checks. When a name gets brought to me by one of our coaches, I do my background checks along with (Head Coach) Ken (McDonald) doing his background checks. We talked to the right people.”

Bjork said among that list of people were NCAA officials, members of Miami’s compliance department and former Miami Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt.

Bjork said WKU eventually hired Morton because he was the “total package.”

“One, you’re getting a guy coming from an ACC program, so he’s seen play at the highest standpoint,” Bjork said. “Great reputation, from a recruiting perspective. Those are the reasons you hire somebody — what’s their experience, what’s their connections, from a recruiting standpoint? What’s their knowledge of the game? How do they fit?

“You check the box on all those things with Jake. He fit the need and fit the criteria.”

The NCAA said it had been investigating the Miami situation five months before the Yahoo! report was published. Even so, Bjork said WKU had no inkling that these potential violations were surfacing when they hired Morton.

So, naturally, Bjork said he was “surprised” and “shocked” when he first heard about the allegations.

“With my relationship at Miami and me working there, the individual, Nevin Shapiro, was always a football booster. He was never even around basketball,” Bjork said. “So I was shocked that there was a basketball connection to this guy and surprised these allegations came forward, because I know Frank Haith and Jake.

“But now, all we can do is cooperate and see how the process unfolds.”