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Amateur basketball coach gets three months prison in NCAA case

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NEW YORK — An amateur coach was sentenced to three months in prison Friday for his role in a college basketball bribery scheme that sought to steer impressionable NBA-bound athletes toward fledgling money managers and handlers.

Merl Code, 45, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court by Judge Edgardo Ramos, who called the Greer, South Carolina, resident a “very decent human being” who played a lesser role in a conspiracy that gave a glimpse into corruption in major college sports.

“It appears that all this type of conduct is prevalent in college basketball and other college sports,” the judge said. “The money is there. There’s a lot of it and it’s so easy to take it. It doesn’t make it right, but it explains how an individual like Mr. Code ends up in this courtroom today.”

Without leniency, Code faced between three and four years in prison according to federal sentencing guidelines.

A day earlier, Ramos sentenced former aspiring sports business manager Christian Dawkins, 26, of Atlanta, to a year and a day in prison when sentencing guidelines called for a prison term of three-to-four years.

Dawkins and Code were both convicted at a May trial on a bribery conspiracy charge, though Dawkins was also convicted of bribery. Previously, each had been sentenced to six months in prison after they were convicted in a related case.

They were among 10 individuals arrested in 2017 as authorities revealed a conspiracy involving a network of individuals including several affiliated with apparel companies that sponsor college athletic programs.

The goal was to steer top players to certain schools, then get them to sign with managers who would handle their finances once they turned professional.

Four former assistant basketball coaches who pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy also were sentenced leniently.

Code was a Clemson point guard in the 1990s who later worked with Nike and Adidas. He declined to speak when given the opportunity to address the judge prior to sentencing.

His attorney, Mark Moore, said his client was too emotional.

“This has been very difficult for him,” Moore said. He added that Code had no employment prospects and feels “he’s toxic because of these prosecutions.”

Code and Dawkins were previously sentenced to six months in prison in a related case. They will remain free on bail pending the outcome of appeals.

Kansas apologizes for risque Snoop Dogg show at Late Night at the Phog

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas apologized for its risque Late Night at the Phog event in which rapper Snoop Dogg performed, stripper poles were wheeled onto the Allen Fieldhouse floor and fake money was shot over the heads of prospective recruits.

Athletic director Jeff Long said Friday night “we expected a clean version of the show.”

The Jayhawks instead got an R-rated performance for their annual basketball kickoff and another big headache as they deal with a high-level NCAA infractions case tied to recruiting.

“We made it clear to the entertainers’ managers that we expected a clean version of the show and took additional steps to communicate to our fans, including moving the artist to the final act of the evening, to ensure that no basketball activities would be missed if anyone did not want to stay for his show,” Long said in a statement. “I take full responsibility for not thoroughly vetting all the details of the performance and offer my personal apology to those who were offended.

“We strive to create a family atmosphere at Kansas and fell short of that this evening.”

Kansas has been putting on Late Night for 35 years, but what began as a scrimmage to celebrate the start of basketball practices has turned into a night of skits, music and entertainment.

That’s included big-name rappers in recent years, such as Tech N9ne, Lil Yaghty and 2 Chainz.

None of them brought the cache of Snoop, though. The 47-year-old rapper and well-known sports fan was expected to take the minds of players, fans and recruits off the specter of the NCAA investigation and turn attention fully to a season in which the Jayhawks are expected to be title contenders.

The school even promoted his appearance with a social media video of Hall of Fame coach Bill Self wearing a gaudy chain and Adidas shirt — the focus of the NCAA inquiry has been on the apparel company’s dealings with recruits, including whether officials paid them to steer them to its schools.

Wearing a No. 20 jersey with “Snoop” on the back, the artist performed for about 35 minutes to a full house that included the men’s and women’s basketball teams. But he wound up singing unedited versions of several hits, such as “Gin and Juice” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” as pole dancers performed and fake $100 bills featuring the rapper’s face were shot over players and recruits.

Self said he wasn’t feeling well and spent most of the performance in the locker room. He later told The Kansas City Star he expected a “radio edited” version of the songs.

“I don’t guess you have visuals on radio. I learned that tonight,” Self told The Star. “That’s not the direction anybody at our school would want that to go at all, regardless of any entertainment that it provided many, it was still not the right way to provide the entertainment.”

Especially given the controversy already surrounding the tradition-rich program.

The school received a notice from the NCAA late last month alleging three severe violations tied to recruiting and a responsibility charge leveled against Self. Also cited is a lack of institutional control within the program.

The document does not detail what Kansas is accused of doing. The program is among the most prominent in an NCAA inquiry into a pay-for-play scheme that began with an FBI investigation into the apparel company Adidas.

A former employee for the company later testified that he made payments to the family of one Kansas recruit and the guardian of a current player, and text messages presented in court revealed a close relationship between Self and the Adidas employee.

The school has said it will appeal and “strongly disagrees” with the assertion it lacks institutional control.

Kansas will be allowed to present its case at a hearing. The NCAA will then rule, often within several months, and the school has the right to appeal.

North Carolina State also has received a notice of allegations. Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Louisville, LSU and Southern California are among those under the NCAA microscope.

NC State’s Keatts aims to keep focus on team, not NCAA case

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts is trying to keep the focus on what happens on the basketball court and not a suspension or the ongoing NCAA infractions case swirling around the program.

There is no end in sight for the balancing act.

Not with the indefinite suspension of D.J. Funderburk for violating team policy. Then there are NCAA charges against the program from before Keatts’ arrival that are tied to the federal corruption investigation into college basketball. There is no timetable for a resolution in that case, which must wind its way through the infractions system.

“From a recruiting standpoint, it’s been a little bit of a challenge,” Keatts said Thursday of the NCAA case during the Wolfpack’s preseason media day. “As you know in basketball or any sport, any time of your competitors can use something that may happen or may not happen against you, then they do.

“From our standpoint, we really have just focused on these guys and how successful we can be. Honestly we don’t even talk about it.”

Keatts has generally declined to discuss the NCAA case, which was rooted in a criminal probe involving improper payments to recruits and their families, as well as apparel company Adidas. That case has impacted numerous programs across the country, though only N.C. State and Kansas have said they have received a Notice of Allegations (NOA) from the NCAA outlining charges.

The NCAA charged N.C. State in July with four violations, including potential top-level counts against former head coach Mark Gottfried and former assistant coach Orlando Early tied to guard Dennis Smith Jr., who played one season for the Wolfpack before leaving for the NBA.

Keatts took over for Gottfried in spring 2017, a few months before the federal investigation became public, and no member of the current staff is accused of wrongdoing.

“None of us were here during that time, and obviously it doesn’t really affect us because it wasn’t us,” said Pat Andree, a graduate transfer from Lehigh. “It’s going to be around and we’re going to hear it a lot, but we’ve just got to control what we can control.”

N.C. State was originally due to submit its response to the NCAA charges Monday, though the NCAA has since suspended filing deadlines in all cases related to the FBI probe until after Nov. 20. Keatts said he has left the NCAA case to school compliance staffers and attorneys, and that the team’s focus has been solely on basketball.

Junior guard Braxton Beverly agreed, even while acknowledging the case has been “all over the news so it’s kind of hard to completely avoid.”

“That stuff predates this team, this staff, everybody that’s here right now,” Beverly said. “It’s not like we were caught up in it. Right now, we’re just focused on us. I can’t speak for everybody else to say they don’t ever think about it. But it’s not something that we just dwell on or try to make sense out of.”

While the NCAA case is likely months from resolution, this week’s suspension of Funderburk has the potential to more directly impact the Wolfpack on the court this season.

The 6-foot-10, 225-pound redshirt junior was set to earn significant minutes as the team’s top option up front. He averaged 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 55% in roughly 20 minutes of action as a reserve last season, while his length allowed him to block a team-high 38 shots.

Keatts wouldn’t go into specifics into what prompted the suspension beyond saying Funderburk hasn’t met Keatts’ “certain expectation of what I think an N.C. State player should be.”

N.C. State has added graduate-transfer help up front with the 6-8 Andree from Lehigh and 6-10 Danny Dixon from UMKC. The Wolfpack will also have 6-11 redshirt freshman Manny Bates after he missed last year with a shoulder injury.

Keatts said there was no timetable for when Funderburk might return to team-related activities.

“He’s got some benchmarks that I want him to meet to be able to join the team, and when that happens, he’ll be a part of it,” Keatts said. “If it doesn’t, he won’t.”

Feds: Mob bullies spoke of plot to fix college hoops game

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NEW YORK (AP) — Authorities bringing a racketeering indictment against purported members of a New York City organized crime family say their tactics are reminiscent of playground bullies.

Federal prosecutors say 11 Colombo members or associates are among 20 people charged Thursday with extortion, loansharking and other offenses, including an unrealized plot to bribe college basketball players to intentionally lose.

In a particularly violent episode, a reputed Colombo captain and other men allegedly “beat the bricks off” a man who confronted his son for insulting a woman in a bar.

In the alleged basketball plot, one defendant was allegedly heard on a wiretap saying he wanted to pay thousands of dollars to players on an unnamed team to let the other team cover the points spread.

The indictment did not mention a team by name, and there’s no evidence the plot was carried out.

Kentucky sophomore Hagans works on his offense, leadership

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans showed he was one of the most promising guards in college basketball last year, playing tough on-ball defense and his ability to distribute the basketball.

Now, he needs to be a better scorer and the Wildcats might need his leadership more than anything else.

The Southeastern Conference’s co-defensive player of the year is Kentucky’s top returning scorer — though he averaged just 7.7 points per game. He is the lone starter among four returning veterans.

Kentucky’s eight newcomers include freshmen guards Tyrese Maxey, Johnny Juzang and Dontaie Allen — who is sidelined with knee and shoulder injuries — and junior walk-on transfer Riley Welch. Wildcats coach John Calipari notes that Maxey and Hagans are “going right at each other” during preseason practices, with his veteran point guard enjoying the challenge and the verbal exchanges.

“It’s just being more vocal and showing guys the right way,” said Hagans, who averaged 4.3 assists per contest with 61 steals. “We’ve got four guys back with a leadership role on this team and that’s what we’ll need to be at our best.”

Kentucky lost forward PJ Washington and guards Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson to the NBA draft. That trio combined for 42 points per game, creating a huge offensive void to fill.

Calipari hinted he might play a three-guard alignment with Immanuel Quickley. There’s little question Hagans will have the ball often after he handed out 160 assists and provided stability during Kentucky’s run to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.

The coach believes Hagans is ready and has returned to school more self-assured.

“Every kid that comes in here, their first year there’s anxiety,” Calipari said during Tuesday’s annual media day. “At times there’s (what) I call it a fake swagger. You’re scared to death but you’re acting like you’re not.

“In that second year, if you’re honest with yourself, if you’re not delusional and you know what’s expected and you’re confident that you’re trained to do it and grow like Ashton is right now, I mean he’s got a different way about him. You can just see it.”

Offseason weight training has helped, though the Cartersville, Georgia, native can’t say how much bulk has been added to his 6-foot-3, 198-pound frame. The work seems most obvious in his legs, though his biceps frequently contracted as he situated himself in a chair for interviews.

“I’ve just tried to stay with Rob, get some extra work in if I can,” Hagans said, referring to workouts with strength and conditioning coach Robert Harris. “I just work real hard in the weight room so I can bring that aggressiveness on the court on the defensive end.”

Hagans’ goal is converting all his offseason work into more points.

He shot 47% last season but made just 28% from 3-point range and struggled with inconsistency down the stretch. He has worked this offseason to improve finishing at the basket while showing more confidence in his jumper.

“His game has always been really good, but his jump shot’s improving,” Quickley said. “He’s always been good at getting people involved. He’s found a balance of being selfish and unselfish, and when I say selfish that’s being a good thing because we need him to get buckets as well as pass. He’s done a good job at both.”

Hagans’ steals total tied for the third most by a Wildcats freshman in program history. He also grabbed 96 rebounds while starting the final 29 games and went on to share SEC defensive honors with LSU’s Tremont Waters.

He won’t change his defensive mindset, but makes it clear he aims to take advantage on his chances more often this season.

“It’s just working with a coach daily, listening to them to see what they can do to help and trying to get better,” Hagans said. “A lot of things take time, so I’ve just been trying to get in the gym and keep getting up shots.”

Dennis Smith Jr. denies that he was paid to play for N.C. State

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RALEIGH, N.C. — N.C. State released numerous case documents on Tuesday evening in response to a records request.

Among the documents released by N.C. State was a memo summarizing school officials’ April interview with Smith, who’s now with the New York Knicks.

“He said neither he nor his family ever received any cash from anyone at N.C. State,” the memo states, adding that Smith said he “would not have been driving his grandmother’s car” had he accepted money.

Additionally, the school said it had planned to release phone records for Gottfried, now the head coach at Cal State Northridge. But attorneys for Gottfried successfully obtained a temporary restraining order in a Wake County court Tuesday afternoon preventing the release of the records.

In a court filing, Gottfried’s attorneys argued the records shouldn’t be released without Gottfried being able to first review and redact records of personal calls unrelated to his job as N.C. State’s former coach.

Elliot Abrams, a Raleigh-based attorney representing Gottfried, declined to comment Tuesday night. A court hearing in that matter is scheduled for Monday.

The NCAA charged the school in July with four violations, including the potential top-level counts against Gottfried and former assistant coach Orlando Early tied to guard Dennis Smith Jr., who played one season for the Wolfpack before leaving for the NBA.

The NCAA alleged that Early provided Smith and his associates with about $46,700 in improper inducements and benefits — including $40,000 that a government witness testified he delivered to Early, intended for Smith’s family, in 2015.

Gottfried was charged under the NCAA provision of head-coach responsibility for violations within his program.