Sports Talk

Uncle alleges former Memphis Tiger was paid to play under John Calipari

Do you know the name Pierre Henderson-Niles?

Unless you’re a Memphis Tiger fan, I doubt it. Henderson-Niles was a three-star local recruit that played — quite sparingly — for the Tigers under John Calipari for three seasons before Josh Pastner took over the program. Henderson-Niles played for less than a full season with Pastner running the show, leaving the team with eight games left in the regular season.

Henderson-Niles averaged 5.2 points as a senior and 2.4 points in his final season being coached by Cal. If it wasn’t for the fact that he slapped a UAB fan, a memorable image that was caught on camera, when Memphis was still a member of Conference USA, his tenure with Memphis would have been totally forgettable.

So why am I talking about him today?

Because a man name Stephen Saine is claiming that Coach Cal and then-assistant Derek Kellogg had a pay-for-play system in place for Henderson-Niles. Saine, who is Henderson-Niles’ uncle, even sent a letter to the NCAA making the allegations.

Here’s the background: Saine became Henderson-Niles’ guardian when the young boy’s mother, Saine’s sister, was unable to care for him. Saine did time for selling drugs but has since been released from prison and claims to have turned his life around. He’s become a pastor and has written an autobiography that he is claiming to be shopping around to publishers.

I’ll be honest: I’m cynical enough about college sports to fully believe that even a player of Henderson-Niles’ ability got paid to stay and play for his hometown school, and, quite frankly, it has nothing to do with the fact that John Calipari was his coach. That’s just the way that it works at that level. But keep in mind that these accusations are coming from an uncle of the player that is a convicted drug dealer currently trying to sell a book, and that both Josh Pastner and Henderson-Niles himself have denied the claims.

I’ve reached out to both Kentucky and Memphis for comment. I’ll update when I hear back.