Corruption

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Recruitments of Zion Williamson, Marvin Bagley discussed on wiretaps as federal trial continues

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Wednesday’s proceedings in a courtroom of the Southern District of New York brought Sean Miller, Rick Pitino, LSU, Michigan State and Deandre Ayton into discussion. Thursday added Zion Williamson, USC, TCU and Marvin Bagley, among others, into focus as the second trial of the federal government’s investigation into corruption in college basketball continued

“Nike schools pay, too,” video wiretap catches former adidas and Nike employee Merl Code saying, according to CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander. “In some form or fashion, Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Kentucky and all of those schools are doing something to help their kids.”

It was another embarrassing day for the sport, whose underbelly continues to exposed for what it was so long thought to have been – dirty – with each passing day.

“It’s a mess,” Code said on a wiretap, “because there’s so much money involved.”

Williamson, the presumptive No. 1 pick in June’s draft and college basketball’s biggest star after his stellar freshman season at Duke, was the topic of discussion on a wiretap between Clemson assistant Steve Smith with Christian Dawkins and Marty Blazer, both of whom have been at the center of the government’s case, and an undercover FBI agent, according to Norlander.

“Duke is gonna have their resources. UNC is UNC. Kentucky is gonna have their resources,” Dawkins said on the recording. Blazer testified he understood Dawkins’ comments to be in reference to Williamson’s family receiving money to attend those schools.

Another former Blue Devil, Bagley, also was at the center of testimony Thursday. The government showed video of a Las Vegas suite in 2017 in which assistants Tony Bland of USC, Preston Murphy of Creighton and Corey Barker of TCU were shown accepting cash. Bland discussed his efforts to bring Bagley to USC in the video, according to Norlander.

“Tony (Bland) needed money to get to Marvin (Bagley),” Blazer, a cooperating government witness, testified. “Tony was confident he had Marvin Bagley locked in at USC. When Marvin Bagley signs with USC, I need you guys on campus the moment he signs, be ready to get it to him ASAP.”

Bagley ultimately reclassified to the 2017 class and signed with Duke before going on to be the No. 2 pick in last year’s NBA draft.

While there may have been no shocking revelations in testimony Thursday, it was yet another day spent in which college basketball insiders exposed how the game outside the game is seemingly played by many. Who knows how much more we’ll learn tomorrow. Or any subsequent day.

Former Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person to plead guilty

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NEW YORK (AP) — Former Auburn assistant basketball coach Chuck Person is scheduled to plead guilty Tuesday to a conspiracy charge in a scandal that involved bribes paid to entice young athletes to go to top schools.

The change-of-plea hearing was revealed in a filing late Friday by prosecutors in Manhattan federal court.

Person was scheduled to go to trial in June. The former NBA player will be the fourth and final assistant coach from a major college basketball program charged in the case to change his plea.

His plea deal is expected to be roughly the same as that offered to the other coaches with a recommended sentencing guideline range of two to 2 1/2 years in prison.

The amount of money involved in Person’s case was $91,500. His lawyer declined comment.

LSU announces indefinite suspension of Will Wade

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One day after it was reported by Yahoo Sports that LSU head coach Will Wade was overheard on federal wiretaps discussing a recruiting “offer” with FBI defendant Christian Dawkins, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva announced that the coach has been suspended indefinitely.

Assistant coach Tony Benford will serve as interim head coach as the school works through its investigation of the recent report.

“All of us at LSU share the obligation to protect the integrity of the institution, as such we have suspended Head Coach Will Wade indefinitely until such time as we can ensure full compliance with the NCAA, as well as institutional policies and standards,” Alleva said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

During his taped conversation with Dawkins, Wade was quoted as referring to a recruiting process as the “Smart thing.” It isn’t explicitly stated in the conversation, but it could appear that this is in reference to then-recruit and current LSU freshman guard Javonte Smart. LSU has not announced anything regarding Smart’s status for Saturday’s regular season finale against Vanderbilt.

Wade issued a statement to the New Orleans Times-Picayune in which he stated that the reports surrounding his suspension “do not begin to tell the full story. I understand the University had to take action before all the facts are in, but I would ask everyone to withhold their judgment until the record is complete.”

Wade isn’t the only coach to be sanctioned by his school in the aftermath of the latest Yahoo Sports report. TCU assistant Corey Barker and Creighton assistant Preston Murphy have both been placed on administrative leave by their respective schools. Per the report Barker and Murphy are alleged to have been offered $6,000 bribes by Dawkins.

Dawkins and former adidas grassroots executive Merl Code Jr. were sentenced to six months in prison earlier this week, with former adidas executive James Gatto receiving a nine-month sentence. All three defendants have filed appeals of their respective sentences.

Coach K downplays shoe company involvement as Duke mentioned at trial

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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski took the opportunity Monday to downplay the breadth of the illicit actions being alleged/revealed/confirmed in testimony over the last two weeks of Brian Bowen Sr. and T.J. Gassnola.

The father of an elite recruit and and adidas consultant, the pair have essentially narrated a roadmap to college basketball’s underground that includes payoffs, cars, deception, hustling and layers upon layers of NCAA violations.

“It’s a blip. It’s not what’s happening,” K said at the Blue Devils’ media day. “We haven’t lost guys because of someone’s shoe. I’m not aware of that.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, and we’ll get to it, but first it’s worth pointing something out. Something that came, ironically enough, to light Monday thanks to court proceedings in Manhattan as part of the Southern District of New York’s college basketball corruption case. Let’s go now to text messages between Gassnola and Kansas coach Bill Self.

Gassnola: “In my mind, it’s KU, Bill Self. Everyone else fall into line. Too (expletive) bad. That’s what’s right for Adidas basketball. And I know I’m right. The more you have lottery picks and you happy. That’s how it should work in my mind.”
Self: “That’s how ur (sic) works. At UNC and Duke.”

So despite K’s handwringing and outright dismissal of shoe companies’ involvement in high-profile recruitments, there is a Hall of Fame, national-championship winning coach at one of the most prominent and storied programs in the history of the sport that, apparently, thinks different.

That seems noteworthy.

Coach K’s whole premise, in fact, ignores the whole point of what, whether he admits it or not, is going on, seemingly, at a wide scale. The idea that Duke may or may not have lost guys because of their shoe affiliation is beside the point. The Blue Devils, you may have heard, are a Nike school. One of the preeminent Nike schools. Another thing you may have heard is that Nike is far and away the predominant player in basketball apparel. The pool of players that Duke could even conceivably miss out on because of shoe affiliation is tiny compared to the amount of high-level prospects that are “Nike guys.”

Let’s also not forget that Nike outfits another pretty influential group in the basketball world. USA Basketball. Which Coach K has essentially headed as the men’s national team coach for the last 10 years where he worked with some of Nike’s most high-profile athletes like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Oh, and Mason Plumlee, who got a spot on the 2014 World Cup team totally because he was one of the best players the United State had to offer and not at all because of his Duke connections.

But I digress.

What we learned today is that the perception nationally that shoe companies, to whatever degree, help their favored schools land top recruits is not one held simply by media blowhards and paranoid fanbases. It’s one a coach of one of those favored schools holds, too. The fact that there have been days of testimony in a federal courtroom that back up that sentiment should matter here, too.

Krzyzewski’s statements are self-serving. He’s not the first one to take this route. That’s fine. It’s his job to win basketball games and protect Duke basketball. Pretending like shoe companies are a non-factor in recruiting is in his best interest as he and his program continue to enroll the best players in the country while wearing a swoosh on every piece of clothing.

It’s not reality, though.

Brian Bowen’s father: Louisville assistant gave cash

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NEW YORK (AP) — The father of a blue-chip college basketball recruit testified Tuesday that an assistant coach at the University of Louisville gave him a secret payment of $1,300 as part of a deal to get the son to sign with the school.

At a criminal trial about corruption in big-time basketball, Brian Bowen Sr. described meeting assistant Kenny Johnson two separate times in 2017 to try to collect cash in violation of school and NCAA rules.

Bowen testified that the first time, he informed Johnson that defendant Christian Dawkins had promised that the coach would help him with paying rent, Johnson was “shocked” and “flabbergasted.” The next time, he said, Johnson handed over $1,300 — reluctantly.

“He made it clear that this was a one-time deal for him,” Bowen said in federal court in Manhattan. “He said Louisville didn’t pay basketball players.”

There was no immediate response Tuesday to a message seeking comment from a lawyer for Johnson, who was never accused of a crime.

The testimony about the recruitment of Brian Bowen Jr. came in a case that prompted Louisville to fire both Johnson and its legendary coach, Rick Pitino. Johnson is now an assistant at La Salle.

Dawkins, former amateur coach Merl Code and former Adidas executive James Gatto, have pleaded not guilty to charges they sought to use under-the-table payments of up to $100,000 from Adidas in exchange for commitments from top prospects to major programs seen as a path to the pros. Their lawyers haven’t disputed that payments were offered, but they argue that the schools never suffered any harm.

Brian Bowen Sr. took the witness stand in federal court in Manhattan as part of an agreement with the government that will spare him from prosecution. On Tuesday, he testified that he tried to keep quiet about the “money scheme” that he knew broke the rules, even going as far as keeping his son in the dark about it.

“I didn’t want him to get involved in something that was wrong. … And I definitely didn’t want my son to lose his eligibility,” he said.

Once the scandal broke, Louisville withdrew Brian Bowen’s scholarship before he ever played a game. He’s currently playing professionally in Australia.

Brian Bowen Sr. details alleged illicit offers in testimony

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One of the most anticipated moments of this week’s trial in New York of the government’s case into its investigation of corruption in college basketball did not fail to deliver some noteworthy testimony.

Brian Bowen, Sr., whose son has been at the center of the government’s investigation, testified about the offers he says multiple schools were said to have made to secure the services of his five-star son, Brian Jr.

Here’s what Bowen Sr. said that Christian Dawkins told him regarding multiple schools according to Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel:

  • Arizona would pay $50,000 via assistant coach Joe Pasternak
  • Oklahoma State would provide $150,000, $8,000 for a car and “some undisclosed amount to buy a house” via assistant LaMont Evans
  • Texas would “help me with housing” via assistant Mike Morrell
  • Creighton would provide “like $100,000 and a good job, like a lucrative job” via assistant Preston Murphy
  • An offer of $60,000 to $80,000 to attend Louisville was upped to $100,000 because that’s what was provided to Billy Preston to attend Kansas

Bowen Sr. also had plenty to say about things he says he experienced first hand (these as well via Wetzel):

  • He did not “recall” any discussion about an offer from Oregon
  • He was paid $25,000, which he says came from Dawkins and adidas’ Chris Rivers, for Bowen Jr. to play grassroots ball one summer with the Michigan Mustangs
  • He was paid $5,000 to $8,000 for Bowen Jr. to play with the Chicago-based and Nike-sponsored grassroots program Mean Streets
  • He was paid $2,000 a month by then-La Lumiere coach and current DePaul assistant Shane Heirman for his son to attend the prep school

Got all that?

It’s certainly quite a bit to digest, both for a jury and for anyone trying to figure out what the potential NCAA fallout could be from these claims. Obviously, the testimony that would seem to carry the most weight would be what Bowen Sr. says he experienced directly, which does not implicate any collegiate programs of rule-breaking. What he says Dawkins conveyed to him is more problematic, but those messages are second-hand and would seem to be far from provable allegations without corroborating evidence or testimony. An agent’s runner, especially one with Dawkins’ track record, telling the father of a recruit what a school is going to pay is hardly slam-dunk evidence.

There’s also the fact that the only allegations of actual completed payments are from Louisville and Kansas, and the allegation against the Jayhawks would seem even more tenuous given the added layer of a separate player’s involvement, but that may not matter. According to NCAA rule 13.2.1, simply offering money, jobs or other inducements is an NCAA violation even if money doesn’t change hands. “An institution’s staff member or any representative of its athletics interests shall not be involved, directly or indirectly, in making arrangements for or giving or offering to give any financial aid or other benefits.”

Bowen Sr. is slated to take the stand again tomorrow, and it’s clear he has plenty to say regarding the underbelly of college hoops recruiting. There’s little doubt here that the situations Bowen Sr. describes is how things are often done at the highest levels of recruiting, but there will probably need to be more than just what he says he was told by a middle man for there to be any major – or even minor – ramifications for the schools he mentioned Thursday.

UPDATE:

Creighton released the following statement Thursday evening in response to Bowen Sr.’s testimony:

“In 2017, when information regarding allegations of improper recruiting practices nationwide were first announced, Creighton conducted a thorough review of its men’s basketball program. University officials take today’s claim very seriously and will continue to work with the appropriate agencies as needed. To date, the Creighton University Athletics compliance office has not been contacted by the FBI or the NCAA

“Integrity is one of the guiding principles of coach Greg McDermott’s men’s basketball program, and the university is committed to upholding those values.”

Oregon also released a statement:

“A claim was made in federal court this week that the University of Oregon offered money to a prospective student-athlete in men’s basketball. The UO takes this claim very seriously.

We have reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the case to ascertain whether any evidence exists to substantiate this claim. They have not yet responded to our inquiry. To date, the UO has never been contacted by federal authorities or any other parties involved in this or any other current criminal or civil case related to recruiting in men’s college basketball.

Last year, in response to allegations of fraudulent recruiting practices within college basketball, the UO conducted interviews with members of the men’s basketball staff and reviewed player recruiting practices. That review found no evidence that the UO had used monetary offerings to prospective student-athletes or their family members to entice them to attend the UO. After the claim was made in federal court this week, we again spoke with members of the men’s basketball coaching staff and, again, found no evidence that illicit conduct occurred.

Based on all of the information currently available, we feel confident that coach Dana Altman and members of his staff uphold the highest standards of integrity in recruiting. Coach Altman is one of the nation’s most respected men’s basketball coaches, and we are proud of his strong track record of success on and off the court.

“We will continue to closely monitor proceedings from the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York.”