Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

Lawyer: Evidence shows coaches knew of NCAA family payouts

Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — A lawyer for a longtime Adidas employee urged jurors Thursday to use common sense and evidence to conclude college basketball coaches like Bill Self at Kansas and Rick Pitino at Louisville knew shoe companies were paying money to families of elite athletes to steer them to their schools.

Attorney Michael Schachter, representing Adidas sports marketing manager James “Jim” Gatto, cited testimony and evidence that emerged during the fraud conspiracy trial of Gatto, aspiring sports agent Christopher Dawkins and Merl Code, a former Adidas consultant.

“Ladies and gentlemen, what help do you think a coach thought Jim Gatto was going to provide in persuading a kid to go to their college?” he asked. “Jim works for a shoe company. He is not a guidance counselor. Kids don’t turn to him for assistance in where they should go to college.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Diskant, who has portrayed the schools and sometimes their coaches as victims of the defendants, said in a closing statement that coaches were not “running rampant.”

“Nothing can be further from the truth,” the prosecutor said, highlighting protocols in place at schools to ensure compliance with NCAA rules.

He said the defendants hid payments from coaches, knowing they would be fired if they facilitated payouts to players’ families.

“Does that mean that some of the coaches didn’t break the rules? No, it’s possible they did,” Diskant said.

The prosecutor noted that there was no mention of money in two voice messages Gatto left for Pitino. He also cited evidence that Dawkins, speaking of a financial payout, told the Bowen family: “I would never tell Rick anything like this because I don’t want to put him in jeopardy.”

Schachter told jurors that the government’s star witness — former Adidas consultant Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola — lied when he testified that he was concealing from universities the fact that cash was being paid to the families of top recruits.

He cited Gassnola’s testimony about a North Carolina State assistant coach. Gassnola, who pleaded guilty to criminal charges and cooperated with prosecutors, told jurors that he delivered cash in 2015 to Coach Orlando Early, who planned to give it to a personal trainer for highly touted point guard Dennis Smith Jr. so it could be relayed to the athlete’s family.

Schachter said evidence shows that Self “knew of and asked for a payment to be made to Silvio De Sousa’s handler.”

The lawyer added: “More than that, Coach Self requested just that kind of help that Mr. Gassnola arranged as a condition for Coach Self to permit Adidas to continue their sponsorship agreement with the University of Kansas.”

Schachter also cited a conversation his client had in late May 2017 with Pitino, saying it occurred just after Code told Gatto that he needed money for the family of Louisville recruit Brian Bowen Jr. because the University of Oregon, a Nike school, had made an “astronomical offer” to recruit him.

Schachter said Gatto wanted to be sure Pitino wanted Bowen before he spent his employer’s money.

“Why, precisely, would Louisville’s head coach think that a shoe company representative wants to speak with him about a player?” Schachter asked. “Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that the only explanation that makes any sense is that Coach Pitino knows exactly why Jim is calling to discuss a player.”

Bowen committed to Louisville on June 1, 2017, though he never played for the school. He now plays professionally in Australia. Pitino, a legendary coach, was never accused of a crime but was fired amid the investigation’s fallout.

North Carolina State announced last year that Early and the school’s head coach were leaving the program months before the corruption case became public.

Smith played one year at NC State. He now plays for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

De Sousa is a sophomore at Kansas.

The jury is likely to start deliberations Monday.

Recruitment of Zion Williamson discussed during Tuesday’s FBI trial proceedings

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
1 Comment

The trial focused on James Gatto, Merl Code Jr. and Christian Dawkins continued Tuesday, and the biggest news out of New York City focused on information that attorneys were not allowed to use in building their case. As a result, the information was discussed before jurors entered the courtroom for Tuesday’s session.

The name of Duke freshman forward Zion Williamson was mentioned for the first time, by way of the transcript of a phone conversation between Code and current Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend that was read by defense attorney (representing Code) Mark Moore.

Per the transcript, Code and Townsend discussed the recruitment of Williamson, with Code saying that the prospect’s father was asking for “opportunities from an occupational perspective,” money and housing in exchange for his son’s commitment according to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports.

Moore would go on to read Townsend’s response per the transcript, with the coach being recorded saying that “so, I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way. Because if that’s what it takes to get him for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”

Due to the lack of context to the conversation, this evidence cannot be used by either the prosecution or defense in the case. That being said the recorded transcript doesn’t match the testimony of T.J. Gassnola, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in late April and is working as a federal witness as part of the plea deal.

Gassnola testified that neither Townsend nor Kansas head coach Bill Self knew anything of any payments being made to prospects or their families in exchange for their commitment to Kansas, one of the adidas brand’s most important college partners.

Two other names mentioned on Tuesday were those of LSU head coach Will Wade and four-star 2019 prospect Balsa Koprivica. The transcript of the conversation between Wade and Christian Dawkins, which according to Gatto attorney Casey Donnelly included the head coach saying that “I can get you what you need but it’s got to work” regarding the recruitment of Koprivica, was not admitted as evidence due to the fact that none of the defendants are being charged for any activity involving Wade, LSU or Koprivica.

The Brian Bowen recruitment was also discussed during the session prior to the jury’s arrival, with attorneys reading a transcript of a conversation between Bowen Sr. and Dawkins in which the former said that he favored Michigan State for his son. Bowen Sr. told Dawkins that Michigan State hadn’t offered anything for his son’s commitment, but that never happened since Bowen Jr. did not want to go to Michigan State. He ultimately landed at Louisville, with his pledge coming just days after an alleged payment of $100,000 was agreed upon.

This case has seemingly focused on the question of what laws/rules the trio of Gatto, Code and Dawkins have broken. The prosecution has argued that the they’ve broken federal laws (in addition to NCAA rules) as the prosecution has argued, with the defense arguing that they haven’t broken federal laws but instead ran afoul of NCAA rules on behalf of the coaches they worked with. Beyond what the jury ultimately decides, there’s also the matter of what the NCAA could do to the programs and coaches mentioned during the trial.

One day after Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said that he felt this current scandal was nothing more than a “blip” on the radar of the sport, a member of his highly-regarded freshman class was mentioned in the courtroom.

While there’s no telling where this will all end, and how the cases will impact college basketball moving forward regardless of the verdicts to come, this trial feels like more than just a blip.

Adidas consultant details underground economy in testimony Thursday

Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images
1 Comment

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.

 

Brian Bowen Sr. details offers made in exchange for son’s commitment

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
1 Comment

Brian Bowen Sr., the father of former Louisville signee Brian Bowen Jr., was cross-examined Tuesday by lawyers representing defendants Christian Dawkins and former adidas employees James Gatto and Merl Code Jr. as the FBI’s bribery and corruption case continued.

During his testimony Bowen Sr. provided information regarding offers that people representing certain schools made in exchange for his son’s commitment. The senior Bowen said testified that in August 2017 former Louisville assistant coach Kenny Johnson “reluctantly” gave him a payment of $1,300 which Bowen Sr. was to use towards rent after his family moved to the city to follow Bowen Jr.

Per media reports Bowen Sr. said that Johnson, who’s now on staff at La Salle, was “flabbergasted” that he was being asked for the payment but eventually complied. During the portion of the testimony focused on Bowen Jr.’s recruitment, his father testified that Louisville’s opening at shooting guard — Donovan Mitchell left for the NBA — played a major role in the decision.

In addition to the one-time payment received from Johnson, Bowen Sr. also testified that he was given money by MeanStreets director — and former Michigan wide receiver — Tai Streets and former MeanStreets coach Tim Anderson in exchange for having his son play for their grassroots program.

Bowen Sr. said that he received a $5,000 payment from Streets and another $1,500 from Anderson, who’s currently an assistant at DePaul. In the case of Streets there’s the potential for this to be an NCAA compliance issue for Michigan according to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports. Even though the payment Bowen Sr. testified to receiving from Streets was for the purpose of placing Bowen Jr. on the MeanStreets roster, Streets is considered to be a representative of Michigan despite the fact that he had no connection to the school’s basketball program.

He also testified that former La Lumiere School coach Shane Heirman, who’s now an assistant at DePaul, paid him $8,000 over a period of time in exchange for Bowen Jr. playing basketball at La Lumiere.

With regard to the colleges recruiting Bowen Jr., the elder Bowen testified that Christian Dawkins informed him of offers being made by Arizona, Creighton, Oklahoma State and Texas. Oregon was also mentioned during the cross-examination, with Bowen Sr. saying that he could not recall receiving a $3,000 payment from assistant coach Tony Stubblefield despite being shown copies of previous statements he made to the FBI regarding the payment.

Also called to the stand Tuesday was NC State compliance officer Carrie Doyle, who was questioned with regard to the recruitment of former point guard Dennis Smith Jr. When questioned by the prosecution Doyle testified that she had no knowledge of a $40,000 payment made to secure Smith’s commitment to the school. Doyle will be cross-examined by the defense Wednesday.

Brian Bowen’s father: Louisville assistant gave cash

Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

Ranking the 10 best coaching hires heading into this season

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It was a relatively quiet Coaching Carousel in 2017-18 considering everything that happened in the sport of college basketball in the past year, but there still were seven high-major jobs that changed hands as well as a number of spots in leagues like the Atlantic 10, the Mountain West and the bottom of the American.

Not every hire made this offseason made waves, and not every decision to fire a head coach resulted in a lawsuit, but there was plenty to make the 2018-19 season fascinating for a handful of programs.

Let’s take a look back on some of those big name coaching decisions. 

Who made the best hires?

Did anyone make a head-scratching decision?

Who is guaranteed success?

Who is locked into failure?

Here are the 10 best hires of the carousel.

1. CHRIS MACK, Louisville

Chris Mack may have not been here before, but it was something close. When he took over Xavier from Sean Miller in 2009, there were high expectations associated with succeeding a wildly successful coach. The situation is different for him now in Louisville – he’s following one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of the game at one of its most storied programs and amid NCAA (and FBI) scrutiny – but the idea is the same. Win now, and win big.

Mack seems equipped to do both. He kept things rolling at Xavier, making the Musketeers a powerhouse, first in the Atlantic 10 and then in the Big East. He’s already scoring wins on the recruiting trail, which is going to be more indicative of his long-term success with the Cardinals than anything. He’s a proven winner and seemingly the perfect man to take over a high profile job in a tough situation.

2. DAN HURLEY, UConn

There haven’t been many high-profile hires in recent years that seem to just make as much sense as this one. UConn has a sense of urgency to return to prominence following a seemingly instant slide into mediocrity under coach Kevin Ollie after capturing the 2014 national championship. Hurley has made his name – well he’s built on the name his father, legendary prep coach Bob, put on the map and his brother, Bobby, helped perpetuate – in the northeast and would seem perfect to recruit the prep school circuit that has so much talent in the area. Getting the Huskies back to where Jim Calhoun had them seems maybe an impossible task in today’s landscape, but Hurley has the resume and talent to get them out of this rut and back competing for league titles and national relevance.

3. PENNY HARDAWAY, Memphis

My favorite hire of the offseason. Tubby Smith is undoubtedly a fine basketball coach, but he’s not exactly injecting a ton of excitement into a program. That was clear toward the end of his tenure in Memphis, which was hemorrhaging cash amid falling attendance figures and an even sharper decline in hope. Enter the most decorated and beloved player in program history, with an All-Star NBA career and all the Memphis recruiting ties any booster could dream of. Penny Hardaway may have zero experience coaching beyond the high school level, but he clearly resonates with recruits and adding Sam Mitchell to his staff should help whatever Xs and Os and organizational issues he’ll need to sort through. Hardaway is unproven, but he’s exciting as hell. The moves he’s already made in assembling his staff and getting to work on the recruiting trail suggest there’s substance to the style, too.

Penny Hardaway (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

4. JEFF CAPEL, Pittsburgh

This is an interesting spot for Capel. He’s had success as a head man at VCU and Oklahoma, but also experienced how fleeting all that can be in his final two seasons with the Sooners. A seven year stint on the bench with Coach K, a host of five-star recruits to your credit and a national championship on your resume is enough to get another high-major chance, though. Despite its historical success, Pitt is a more difficult job now in the ACC than when it was in the Big East, but it’s still got cache. Capel already has the Panthers involved with some high-level recruits – but it’ll be if he can reel them in that will ultimately decide how his third go-round leading a program is judged.

5. TOM CREAN, Georgia

This wasn’t exactly an exciting hire for the Bulldogs after Crean’s tenure in Indiana sort of petered out, but that’s probably not giving Crean enough credit for all he accomplished in – and the players he brought to – Bloomington. No, he’s not the exciting up-and-comer who brought Dwyane Wade to Marquette anymore, but Crean still won a ton of games with the Hoosiers. He’s also widely regarded in the industry as a serious grinder who didn’t just cash TV checks in his time off the bench, but rather continued to learn and study. Maybe he won’t have runaway success in Athens, but I think something like what Rick Barnes has done at Tennessee is very much a possibility.

6. ASHLEY HOWARD, La Salle

La Salle was never able to capitalize on its Sweet 16 appearance of 2013, with three losing seasons and two others one game above .500 following John Giannini’s second weekend run. The Explorers had eight seasons of sub-.500 ball in Giannini’s 14 seasons at the helm, in fact. So it makes a lot of sense to look across town on Jay Wright’s staff for an answer. Howard has had assistant stints at La Salle, Drexel and Villanova, where he won a couple of national championships, so his Big 5 credentials are impeccable. It’s hard to imagine La Salle doing better than this hire.

7. JAMION CHRISTIAN, Siena

Somehow, Siena went from an ugly breakup with Jimmy Patsos to snagging a 36-year-old head coach who already been to two NCAA tournaments and recruited well enough to Mount St. Mary’s to be perpetually (or so it seemed) losing players to up-transfers. This is a hire that seems destined to succeed.

8. DANA FORD, Missouri State

With Creighton and Wichita State seeking out greener pastures, Missouri State is well positioned to compete year-in and year-out in the Missouri Valley Conference. Ford, 34, engineered a quick turnaround at Tennessee State before things started teetering in Years 3 and 4, but he’s well regarded and would seem set up to succeed in an area the Illinois State graduate and one-time Wichita State assistant knows well.

9. TRAVIS STEELE, Xavier

If history is any guide, Travis Steele is going to win a ton of games with Xavier. From Thad Matta to Sean Miller to Chris Mack, the Musketeers promote from within and then go on to win. It’s simply what they do. Steele’s resume leaves little doubt that it’ll continue yet again in Cincinnati.

10. NIKO MEDVED, Colorado State

After a tumultuous run and messy end, the marriage between Larry Eustachy and Colorado State came to an end this season, leaving the door open for the Rams to pursue ties to the staff that helped them to back-to-back NCAA tournaments in 2012 and 2013. Medved coached for Tim Miles as he built Colorado State into a contender, and then stuck around with Eustachy for a year as Colorado State earned an eight seed and tournament win. Then it was Furman, where he improved their win total every year before leaving for a one-year stop at Drake. Medved knows what it takes to win in Fort Collins, and he’s familiar with rebuilding jobs.