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Report: NCAA given OK to investigate teams mentioned in corruption scandal

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With the college basketball regular season getting underway Tuesday night, this was a good time for a rather significant news dump.

Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday that the FBI has given the NCAA the OK to begin investigating some of the programs that have been mentioned during the recent cases on corruption and bribes in college basketball recruiting. Among the programs mentioned during the first trial were Louisville, Kansas and NC State.

Tuesday’s development is big because the NCAA will likely have access to information that it may not have been able to procure without the FBI investigation. The NCAA does not have subpoena power, which has a significant impact on investigations that involve former athletes, coaches or individuals who have no connection to an athletic department, as they cannot be forced to speak to NCAA investigators.

Last month former adidas basketball executive James Gatto, former adidas grassroots basketball employee Merl Code Jr. and former runner/aspiring agent Christian Dawkins were found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. While Gatto and Code were found guilty of two counts, Dawkins was found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The lawyers for all three plan to appeal the verdicts in the coming months.

There are two more rounds of trials in connection with the FBI investigation that have yet to begin, with those scheduled for February and April. Among the men indicted who have yet to be tried are former Division I assistant coaches Tony Bland (USC), Lamont Evans (Oklahoma State), Chuck Person (Auburn) and Emmanuel “Book” Richardson (Arizona).

N.C. State commit Jalen Lecque considering jump straight to NBA

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Top N.C. State recruit Jalen Lecque will consider making the leap straight from high school to the NBA next spring.

In a report from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, Lecque, who is currently doing a fifth year of high school at Brewster Academy, is weighing his basketball future as he begins an important final season of prep ball. A five-star prospect, and widely considered to be one of the best athletes in the national Class of 2019, Lecque is already drawing NBA scouts to see him play early this season.

“I am interested in everything because the NBA is my goal at the end of the day,” Lecque said to Givony. “I want to be a great college player, but my end goal is to help my family. I want to be a concrete Round 1 player if I do make that decision. If I’m guaranteed a Round 1 position, then you never know. I could see myself doing it if I am in a good position at the end of the year. A college education is so important and making that jump is really hard, so I really gotta think about that, but if I’m Round 1, then that’s different.”

As Givony notes in his report, since Lecque didn’t technically receive a high school diploma from Christ School, his previous stop, he will likely need to petition the NBA to enter the draft. That process involves submitting paperwork to the league office and declaring himself eligible for the draft by the early entry deadline of April 21. But since Lecque turns 19 during the calendar year of the draft, while also being a year removed from his original high school graduating class, that he would likely be allowed into the draft.

Regarded as the Rivals’ No. 28 overall prospect in the national Class of 2019, Lecque is N.C. State’s only commitment so far. While Lecque has a lot of positive tools to work with for his basketball future, including elite leaping ability and athleticism, he is still transitioning into attempting to play more on the ball. Lecque’s shaky perimeter jumper — he went 9-for-57 from three during Nike EYBL play this spring and summer — will also be something to monitor during his season at Brewster.

If Lecque can show scouts that his jumper is workable, then he could be an intriguing player during the NBA Draft process. Even if Lecque opts to test the NBA draft waters, he could always back out of the pro commitment and still go to the Wolfpack for his freshman season — similar to what Hamidou Diallo did before his freshman season at Kentucky.

N.C State guard Braxton Beverly out with broken hand

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Kevin Keatts has some decisions to make this season at point guard with a bevy of attractive options with Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson and Missouri transfer Blake Harris all after minutes this season for N.C. State.

One of those options, though, just got taken off the table for the immediate future.

Beverly, who started 26 games and was second on the Wolfpack in 3s last year, broke a bone in his left hand, the school announced Monday. The sophomore will undergo surgery Tuesday and will be out indefinitely.

The 6-foot guard from Hazard, Ky. averaged 32.4 minutes per game last season, putting up 9.5 points and 3.9 assists against just 1.2 turnovers. He shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range.

The Wolfpack will now lean on Johnson and Harris. Johnson averaged 8.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. Harris is a former four-star recruit who left Missouri midway through last year, but received a waiver from the NCAA for immediate eligibility.

N.C. State, which made the tournament last season in Keatts’ first year in Raleigh, opens the season Nov. 6 against Mount St. Mary’s

 

Lawyer: Evidence shows coaches knew of NCAA family payouts

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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.

Adidas consultant details underground economy in testimony Thursday

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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.

 

NC State looks to transfers for help on overhauled roster

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Devon Daniels, C.J. Bryce and Blake Harris spent the better part of last season leading North Carolina State’s practice team and working on their games — along with their ability to stay patient — while sitting out as transfers.

The Wolfpack’s success this season could depend on how successful they were in turning that time into sharpened skillsets, particularly with so many new faces on the roster for coach Kevin Keatts’ second season.

“They know how the game is,” sophomore guard Braxton Beverly said Monday during the team’s preseason media day. “They’re a little more mature. They know how everything goes, so that makes it a lot easier when it’s not a lot of freshmen who’ve never experienced this level.”

N.C. State has only three returning players — Beverly, senior Torin Dorn and junior Markell Johnson — who played for the Wolfpack last season. The roster now features 10 newcomers, though not all are eligible to play this season. The list includes a pair of graduate transfers who weren’t with the team last year: forward Wyatt Walker (Samford) and guard Eric Lockett (Florida International).

Daniels is a 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore who averaged 9.9 points and shot 57 percent while starting 26 games as a freshman at Utah. Bryce, a 6-5 redshirt junior was a first-team all-Colonial Athletic Association performer under Keatts at UNC Wilmington while averaging 17.4 points.

Daniels and Bryce were with the Wolfpack from the start of last season, working in practices while sitting out to satisfy NCAA transfer requirements.

“Last year we competed every day against the starters, when we were leading the practice team,” Daniels said. “We just got each other better. We came in here by ourselves and got better a lot — ballhandling drills, shooting together, all that. I think it was good.”

Bryce said he particularly worked to improve his 3-point shot by keeping his elbow in more to tweak his shooting stroke.

“It was a year of work,” Bryce said. “I feel like throughout it all, I stayed pretty dialed-in for the most part.”

Harris, a 6-3 sophomore, joined the program in January after playing 14 games for Missouri. The native of nearby Chapel Hill later received a waiver from the NCAA allowing him to play immediately instead of sitting out the fall semester as typically required by the rules.

To listen to Keatts, they all handled that sitting-out time well, even if it’s not easy.

“The tough part of when you sit out as a transfer, you’re the best player on the (practice) team,” Keatts said. “So we really don’t have a chance to coach you all the time. So you take bad shots and you really don’t know the system as well as you think they should.”

Yet to listen to Dorn, the practices were “super competitive” and helped last year’s team improve enough to return to the NCAA Tournament after a two-season absence.

“They were ready to play,” Dorn said. “They were in street clothes (during games) so they’d come in at practice like this is their game. . I appreciate those guys for doing that because it pushed us to be the team we were last year.”

Now those guys get to show what they’ve learned in games that count.