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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.”

Scandal Proof: A year after the arrests, is college basketball immune to change or consequence?

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As hard as it may be to believe, it was only one year ago today that college basketball as we know it was, seemingly, flipped on its head.

Four high major assistant coaches, two shoe company executives, the head of a high-profile AAU program, a former runner for an NBA agent, a Princeton-based financial advisor and a former NBA-referee-turned-suit-maker were caught up in the FBI raids that would eventually end the career of one prominent NBA agent and implicate ten high-major programs — Louisville, Arizona, USC, Auburn, Oklahoma State, Miami, South Carolina, Kansas, Maryland and Alabama — while leaving dozens more twisting in the winds of rumor and hearsay.

This was supposed to be the moment of reckoning for a sport that had, many believe, spun out of control, a chance for the federal government to do what the NCAA had proven incapable of for so many decades: Clean up college hoops.

The FBI had exposed, as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon Kim referred to it, “the dark underbelly of college athletics.”

“Today’s arrests serve as a warning to others choosing to conduct business this way in the world of college athletics,” Kim added, “We have your playbook.”

A year on, and eight of the 10 people arrested will be heading to trial in the next six months  while one Hall of Fame head coach has lost his job as a result of the investigation.

But the reality, no matter what the NCAA or the FBI has tried to tout over the course of the last 12 months, is that not much has truly changed, and that the one measure the NCAA could have taken to find an answer was hardly even discussed.



In the weeks and months after armed FBI agents raided the homes of the 10 men who were arrested, the entire college basketball world felt like it came to a halt.

Everyone — media members, coaches, players, agents — was, and to a point still is, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

If the FBI had managed to clandestinely investigate college basketball for more than two years, if they had wiretaps on the phones of powerful shoe company executives like Jim Gatto and Merl Code Jr., then there had to be more famous names than Book Richardson and Tony Bland just waiting to get arrested. All of those man-hours, the grandiose press conference touting the end of corruption in college basketball, it wasn’t just so the Southern District of New York could parade out four assistant coaches and a couple guys that helped distribute Adidas’ slush fund and say they fixed the sport.

There had to be more.

Right?

But as the weeks and months passed, it became more and more evident that this case had as much to do with Mischa Barton as it did a targeted strike on the biggest players in the world of amateur basketball.

Marty Blazer, a Pittsburgh-based financial advisor for professional athletes, was caught by the SEC committing securities fraud, illegally using his clients’ money to fund Hollywood movies — like this flop, which starred Barton, Devon Sawa and Michael Clarke-Duncan — at the same time that his name and firm was tied to the agent scandal that was developing on the campus of North Carolina. He flipped, and he offered the government the sport of college basketball.

Blazer started handing out bribes to assistant coaches, trading wads of cash for handshake agreements of influence over where soon-to-be professional athletes would invest their money. That eventually led him, and the FBI agents listening to his phone calls and conversations, to Christian Dawkins, a former runner for ex-NBA agent Andy Miller.

Dawkins was the perfect mark, a young go-getter that was connected enough to attract big names and high-profile programs while being green enough that he didn’t recognize the con. Blazer had put Auburn assistant Chuck Person and Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans on the radar. Dawkins was the one that brought Louisville, USC, and a number of other programs into that Las Vegas hotel suite, the one wired for video and sound by the undercover FBI agents posing as Dawkins’ money men. He helped get Gatto and Code on the FBI’s radar, which in turn ensnared the likes of Miami, Arizona, Kansas and Maryland.

But the bottom never fell out. The blue-bloods — Duke, Kentucky, UNC, Indiana, UCLA — more-or-less remained unscathed. The biggest name to get fired was Rick Pitino and his athletic director, Tom Jurich, but that had as much to do with the fact that this was Pitino’s third embarrassing scandal as it did the Louisville coaching staff getting caught (allegedly) helping to funnel $100,000 to a prospect.

In fact, one could argue that most of the programs that were caught up in the raid are doing better than ever.

Take, for example, Auburn.

Bruce Pearl (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Person, then an assistant with the Tigers, allegedly accepted at least $91,500 in bribes from Blazer in exchange for steering players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy to Blazer for financial services, going as far as to lie to the players and their families about how well he knew Blazer and their past professional relationship. Getting kickbacks — or, as Person’s lawyer refers to it, “referral fees” — to send players that trust you to shady financial advisors is much different than finding a way to funnel $100,000 to the family of a player to get him on your roster.

Person will go to trial to face six federal charges in February of 2019.

Auburn?

They are coming off of their best season in decades. They won their first SEC regular season title since 1999 and just their third league title in program history last year. They reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. They enter this season as the No. 10 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25, and Bruce Pearl — their head coach who has already served a three-year show-cause penalty for lying to NCAA investigators about violating NCAA rules — received a five-year contract extension in June.

Louisville is the program that had to deal with the most direct evidence of cheating, as it became quite evident that Adidas helped the coaching staff funnel $100,000 to five-star recruit Brian Bowen in exchange for his commitment. This cost Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino his job — and possibly his career.

But it’s not like the Cardinals are suffering. They went out and hired the best young coach in the sport in Chris Mack, and he has proceeded to put together a recruiting class that would have made his predecessor envious. Four four-star recruits have committed since May, including three players in the month of September, one of whom was previously committed to the program under Pitino.

USC and Arizona both had an assistant coaches get arrested for accepting bribes. The Trojans currently have the nation’s top-ranked 2019 recruiting class — including a pair of five-star recruits — and are the favorite to land a commitment from the top player in the Class of 2020. They also managed to land a top 20 recruiting class this year.

Arizona dealt with as much fallout from the FBI investigation as anyone, losing a five-star prospect in Jahvon Quinerly, an assistant coach and nearly a head coach after a questionable report about head coach Sean Miller getting caught on a wiretap surfaced. Despite all of that, Arizona is still a force to be reckoned with on the recruiting trail. Five-star guard Nico Mannion picked the Wildcats over Duke and Kansas, among many others.

Sean Miller (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Kansas themselves were officially linked to the investigation after a superseding indictment in April, and while that might cost them Silvio De Sousa this season the way it cost them Billy Preston last season, the Jayhawks are still sitting as the preseason No. 1 team in the country. They are still coming off of a run to the 2018 Final Four. Quentin Grimes, a five-star prospect from Texas and a potential top five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, didn’t seem too worried about the investigation when he enrolled for this season.

Alabama is coming off of a trip to the NCAA tournament and looks like a team that can get back there again next season. Maryland may not have returned to the heights that they were at prior to leaving the ACC, but that has as much to do with Mark Turgeon as it does any links to this investigation. Miami looks to be headed to a down year, but that probably has more to do with the natural swings that come with being a mid-level program in the ACC as anything.

Scandal does not impact a program as much as you might think. North Carolina reached a title game and won the title the following season with the recruiting classes that were built during the throes of the investigation into academic fraud. Impropriety is not going to affect recruiting. Instability does.

Once it became clear Sean Miller wasn’t losing his job, Arizona was back to landing five-stars. Once Louisville landed another elite head coach, the Cardinals were back to getting the players the program is used to. That’s why Bruce Pearl got his extension.

As much as Condoleezza Rice and the NCAA would like you to believe, not much has actually changed in the day-to-day realities of running a high-major college basketball program.


Condoleezza Rice (Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

At this point, we know how ridiculous it is that the FBI is stepping in to try and turn the NCAA’s amateurism bylaws into federal law. We know that the legs that this case stands on are flimsy, that the men going to trial are facing decades in prison for something that no one truly believes is a crime. We know that the victims in this case — the universities — are not actually victims, that they are willingly complicit in the deals that get done. If they weren’t, would Kansas have signed a 12-year, $191 million extension on their apparel deal with Adidas after Adidas victimized the university by allegedly funneling $90,000 to the family of Preston and $20,000 to the guardian of De Sousa?

No.

They would not have.

Because they are not victims.

But we’ve been over all of that before.

The question that is left here is what comes next, and that likely depends on what happens over the course of the three trials. Dawkins, Gatto and Code will be in court beginning on October 1st. The trial for Person and Michel is scheduled to begin on Feb. 4th, 2019, while the trial for Richardson, Evans and Bland is set to begin on April 22nd, 2019.

And that’s where things are going to get dicey for the programs that have had their names tied up in this scandal. Once those trials begin, the evidence that the FBI gathered over the course of their two-year investigation — which included wiretaps, undercover sting operations and the seizure of cell phones and laptops — becomes public. We’ve gotten a taste of what might be included in that evidence already. In February, Yahoo Sports got their hands on a couple of pages of evidence, and that was enough to get programs like Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas linked to this investigation.

What happens when all of that evidence comes out?

Perhaps more importantly, what happens when the NCAA if finally allowed to get their hands on all of this evidence?

The Commission on College Basketball was, more or less, a total failure in my mind. They didn’t even pretend to address the issue of amateurism, and without addressing the issue of amateurism the hope of cleaning up the black market that has developed in the world of basketball recruiting is non-existent.

But what the Commission did manage to get through this rule change: “People charged with investigating and resolving NCAA cases can accept information established by another administrative body, including a court of law [or] government agency.” In other words, the NCAA can use any and all evidence that the FBI dug up to hammer schools, coaches and players that found themselves caught in this mess.

They won’t actually start their investigatory procedures until the legal process has fully played out, but they absolutely will have a chance to come down hard on the offenders that get exposed by the FBI.

That stability currently being enjoyed by Louisville, USC, Arizona and the like?

We’ll see how long it lasts.

Skechers files to dismiss its lawsuit against adidas

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The federal investigation into potential corruption in college basketball is serious business. It’s already cost people their jobs and could cost some their freedom if the government can prove its case in court.

And now the one decidedly funny aspect of this saga has come and gone.

Skechers is abandoning its lawsuit against adidas.

The company made famous for shape-ups filed a motion last month to dismiss its lawsuit against adidas which alleged false advertising and unfair competition due to accusations from the government’s case that adidas has been funneling money to top recruits and their families, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Skechers’ lawsuit was filed for just 20 days and has now been dismissed with prejudice, meaning the company cannot bring further legal action on the topic, according to the Courier-Journal.

Whatever direction the rest of the investigation and legal machinations take, it’s hard to imagine  a stranger plot point than Skechers alleging adidas was keeping it locked out of the hoops shoe game. Apparently it was an outgrowth of another dispute between the two companies, but, still, this was some excellent corporate trolling (probably).

Farewell, Skechers lawsuit. We hardly knew ye.

Skechers sues adidas over federal corruption allegations

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There are sure to be plenty of twists and turns, surprises and shockers as the federal government’s case regarding alleged corruption in college basketball unfolds.

Count the revelation that Skechers is in the basketball shoe game among them.

Who knew?

Skechers is suing adidas, which is embroiled in the FBI’s investigation, alledging false advertising and unfair competition due to accusations from the government’s case that adidas has been funneling money to top recruits and their families, according to Forbes.

“Adidas would have consumers, investors, and the public believe that hot, up-and-coming collegiate basketball players, as well as talented young players who move on to the National Basketball Association (‘NBA’), choose adidas’s products due to their supposed superior performance and style,” it says in the complaint.

“In fact, however, adidas has coopted young players into wearing and expressly or implicitly endorsing its products by funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret payments to players, their coaches, and/or family members in violation of National Collegiate Athletic Association (‘NCAA’) rules.”

So what we have here is a lawsuit from a company known not for their basketball business, but the shoes they make for mall walkers (shoutout to the shape-ups) claiming the as-to-yet-unproven misdeeds of a rival company with solid footing in hoops is hurting their basketball brand.

I’m no lawyer, but I am an admirer of bold moves and trash talking, which looks a lot like we have here. Apparently, the whole thing stems from another legal dispute between the two companies, and this would appear to be an outgrowth of that battle.

Either way, now you know Skechers is (Was? Wants to be? Dreams of being?) in the business of basketball shoes. And you have the federal government to thank for that.