Last week, it was Brian Bowen Sr.’s testimony that named names, schools and specifics of college basketball’s recruiting underbelly. Thursday, it was T.J. Gassnola’s turn to do the same.
The former adidas consultant detailed in a federal courtroom while under oath the web of money, players, middlemen, coaches and inner-workings of his dealings in the world of college basketball recruiting.
It was an eventful day.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the day’s proceedings, courtesy of info provided by CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander, who was a witness to it all at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse in Manhattan.
- Gassnola said that he gave money to Dennis Smith’s family first when the five-star guard was a junior in high school and then $40,000 in 2015 went to NC State assistant Orlando Early, who said he’d give it to Smith’s trainer. Smith played 2016-17 at NC State before becoming an NBA draft lottery pick.
- Gassnola said he tried to recruit Deandre Ayton, who ultimately went to Arizona and was the top pick in June’s NBA draft, to Kansas and felt like he let Jayhawks coach Bill Self down when Ayton picked the Nike-affiliated Wildcats. Gassnola said he gave $15,000 to a family friend of Ayton’s that was indended for Ayton’s mother when Ayton was a high school junior. Gassnola also testified that he tried to secure housing and a job for Ayton’s mother in Kansas.
- Gassnola’s involvement in Ayton’s recruitment wasn’t his only testimony regarding Kansas. He said he gave $2,5000 to the guardian of current Jayhawk Silvio De Sousa when he learned that a Maryland booster was going to provide $60,000. Gassnola had planned future $20,000 payment, but the FBI case broke publicly before that could be completed. Gassnola said he became involved with De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, when Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend asked him to contact Falmagne about getting the Angolan National Team adidas gear. De Sousa is from Angola. Gassnola said he had a “brief conversation” with Kansas coach Bill Self about Angolan National Team situation, but that he did not divulge any payments he made to either Self or Townsend.
- Former Jayhawk Billy Preston was also a topic of testimony Thursday. Gassnola alleged that he provided $90,000 in cash and wire transfer to Preston’s mother and her partner. Once he provided $30,000 in a New York hotel room and later supplied $20,000 in a Las Vegas hotel room, he said. Preston enrolled at Kansas, but never played as there were eligibility issues after he was involved in a car accident that raised questions about whose care he was driving.
- Defense attorneys alleged that the high school coach of former Maryland standout Diamond Stone was seeking $150,000 “in order to recruit him for adidas.”
- On a wiretapped phone call, adidas executive Merl Code is heard alleging that Arizona offered $150,000 to Nassir Little, who will be a freshman at North Carolina this season and whose family has denied receiving any illicit payments.
- Gassnola testified he did not inform Louisville coach Rick Pitino of a $100,000 payment to the family of Brian Bowen Jr. Gassnola also said the first people he reached out to when he learned of the FBI’s investigation were his attorney and Pitino.
There is a lot to digest there. The main takeaway, I think, is just how extensive and seemingly systematic this ecosystem is, assuming that Gassnola and Bowen Sr. have delivered truthful testimony. This is an underground economy filled with people looking to squeeze a dollar from a situation that forces money under the table. Just look how many third parties are involved here. You’ve got a family friend. A mom’s partner. A high school coach. A college coach. Shoe company executives. An agent. There are so many ancillary people involved and who are positioned to make money off someone else’s value. If shoe companies – or whoever – could just pay athletes in the open, it seems clear that all this would be a little more seemly.
With so many layers and barriers built between the money and the players, this is a business that seems destined for corruption. Whether it meets that legal definition or not.