Federal trial pulls back curtain on basketball recruiting

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The curtain to college basketball’s worst-kept secret pulled back even more in a New York federal court last week, revealing a shady world of bagmen, secret payments and bags of cash.

New allegations were made and more programs ensnared as witnesses took the stand in the trial of an Adidas executive and two others facing wire fraud and corruption charges.

As the trial moves forward, the behind-the-scenes view into the black-market world of youth and college basketball will likely cast an even wider net, each day of testimony leaving athletic departments across the country wondering if their program will be next.

“You can rest assured there will be a few coaches sweating this trial out,” former LSU coach Dale Brown said.

The trial stems from an FBI investigation into the seedy side of college basketball recruiting. Ten people, including four assistant coaches at prominent programs, were arrested in September 2017, accused of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in shoe-company money to top recruits to influence their choice of schools, agents and apparel companies.

Former Adidas executive James Gatto, former AAU coach Merl Code and aspiring agent Christian Dawkins are standing trial in the Manhattan federal court, accused of plotting to pay $100,000 to the family top recruit Brian “Tugs” Bowen Jr.

Prosecutors have portrayed the schools as the victims, at risk of NCAA sanctions and the loss of millions of dollars in the pay-for-players schemes. Defense attorneys placed the blame on the schools for a win-at-all-costs mentality while trying lure top recruits, countering that only NCAA rules were broken, not federal laws.

“This is what corruption in college basketball looks like,” U.S. Attorney Eli Mark said in his opening remarks. “When you lie, cheat and deceive in order to get a college to issue financial aid, that is a crime.”

Paying top recruits has long been college basketball’s dirty little secret, but only in a handful of cases had it been exposed. The federal probe, with the heft of wiretaps, subpoenas and threat of jail time, allowed investigators dig into places the NCAA cannot.

Testimony during the trial has shed more light on the dark underbelly of recruiting, sounding at times like a movie plot as one bagman-turned-witness described an envelope full of cash and Bowen’s father nonchalantly discussed paying for his son’s services as if it were a normal part of the process.

“Tugs was one of the top players in the country,” Bowen Sr. testified. “Every shoe company wants good players on their teams.”

Bowen Sr. outlined the range of potential payments offered by schools: $50,000 from Arizona, $100,000 from Creighton, $150,000 from Oklahoma State. He said there was interest from Oregon, which had previously not been linked to the corruption, and that Texas could help him with housing.

Bowen Sr. also outlined a cash payment from an Adidas representative at an AAU event, money to switch AAU teams and for a car.

Bowen Jr. ended up at Louisville, where already-embroiled-in-scandal coach Rick Pitino was fired, before transferring to South Carolina. Bowen Jr. was never cleared to play college basketball and pursued a professional career in Australia.

“Obviously, if you’re a cheater you’re going to just cheat,” Brown said. “We can’t just blame the kids for taking stuff. For a coach to buy somebody, barter somebody or use them is totally unacceptable. I think the percentage who do that is low, but they say if one does it, it’s too much.”

The NCAA ratified a reform package in August to address the issues raised by the FBI case, including stiffer penalties for rules violations, allowing players to work with an NCAA-certified agent while testing the NBA draft waters and changes to recruiting evaluations.

Any NCAA investigations and action against rule-breaking programs likely will not come until after the federal trials, which may not be until next summer, so the 2018-19 season may play out before any sanctions hit.

“Is anything going to change? I don’t know,” Brown said. “I’m hopeful, but it’s been a long, slow process. The organization is making improvements, but needs revamping.”

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.