University of Louisville

The curious case of Brian Bowen, the player at the center of Louisville’s basketball scandal

Brian Bowen was one of the top high school basketball players in the country last season.
Brian Bowen was one of the top high school basketball players in the country last season. AP

On April 28, in a basketball gym in Westfield, Ind., with dozens of high school prospects playing on several different courts, Brian Bowen stood in a crowd near a set of bleachers and watched the action.

Bowen — one of the top recruits in the country — was at the Nike-sponsored event as a spectator. He had wrapped up his own career on the Nike circuit the previous summer, and he said he was there to support some of his former teammates.

He was also still in the process of making a college decision.

In an interview with the Herald-Leader that night, Bowen — an often-smiling, always agreeable 18-year-old from Saginaw, Mich. — gave an update on his recruitment.

The 6-foot-7 small forward said that he was still considering five schools: Arizona, Creighton, Michigan State, North Carolina State and Texas, before adding that Oregon had been talking to him recently, as well. “So that’s a new addition,” he said.

The other five schools had been on his list for more than a year. He had visited their campuses, and he had met with their coaches. He just wasn’t ready to make a decision.

Bowen laughed about being one of the few top players in the 2017 recruiting class who had not yet made a college choice, and he said he never thought his recruitment would last this long.

“I always looked at the guys (who waited) … and I was like, ‘Why are they taking so long? I will never be that guy.’ And now I’m that guy. It’s crazy,” Bowen said.

One school that Bowen never mentioned that night was Louisville, a program that, in fact, had not been linked to Bowen at any time during his recruitment to that point.

“It’s truly a long process,” he said then. “You don’t want to rush it. You have to take your time. There are guys who are maybe staying in school, maybe going to the NBA. There are coaches getting fired. There are so many factors.

“I’m in a position now where I really understand.”

A few days later, he took a recruiting visit to Oregon.

Three weeks after that, Bowen was on U of L’s campus for a visit.

Five days later, he was committed to the Cardinals.

In an interview soon after with WHAS, U of L Coach Rick Pitino described the Bowen recruitment as the “luckiest I’ve been” in 40 years of coaching.

What happened in the weeks that followed that interview in an Indiana gym on April 28 is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation. Pitino has been put on administrative leave and is expected to be fired. Bowen might never play a game of college basketball.

The setup

On Tuesday morning, federal authorities announced findings from a years-long investigation into corruption in college basketball that included wiretaps, video surveillance and undercover agents to uncover improprieties in the sport.

Though not specifically named, the University of Louisville’s basketball program is included in the federal documents as “University-6.”

Pitino, the head of the Cardinals’ program since 2001, has been reported to be “Coach-2” in the documents. “Coach-1” is a U of L assistant coach who has not yet been publicly named.

“Company-1” in the federal documents has been identified as Adidas.

Beginning in May, according to the federal documents, Adidas officials Jim Gatto, Merl Code, sports agent Christian Dawkins and financial adviser Munish Sood — all now defendants in the federal case — “conspired to illicitly funnel” approximately $100,000 from Adidas to the family of “Player-10” in exchange for his commitment to Louisville. The payment would also ensure that “Player-10” would retain Dawkins and Sood as representatives and sign with Adidas once entering the NBA.

“The bribe money was structured in a manner so to conceal it from the NCAA and officials at University-6 by, among other things, having Company-1 wire money to third party consultants who then facilitated cash payments to Player-10’s family,” the federal documents read.

Those documents also point out that the scheme could only succeed if those participating, including the Louisville coaches, “made false certifications” to the university.

NCAA rules state that student-athletes must sign statements on an annual basis that certify he “has not violated any amateurism rules.” College coaches must certify annually that they have reported any knowledge of violations of NCAA rules to their university.

The federal documents state that — at the request of at least one coach from Louisville — Dawkins, Gatto, Code, Sood and others agreed to funnel $100,000 (payable in four installments) from Adidas to the recruit’s family.

Shortly after that agreement with the recruit’s family was reached in late May and early June, the recruit committed to Louisville.

Bowen committed to Louisville on June 3, the date specified in the documents.

Snag in the system

Prior to paying the recruit’s family, Gatto and Code (the Adidas officials) first needed time to generate a “sham purchase order” and “invoice” to justify using Adidas funds, since they could not lawfully pay the recruit’s family directly and risk those payments being revealed.

In July, according to the federal case, Dawkins (the sports agent) worked with Code to arrange for Sood (the financial adviser) and an undercover FBI agent posing as a financial backer to make an initial $25,000 payment to the player’s family on Adidas’ behalf, with the understanding that Adidas would then reimburse that amount.

A conversation between Dawkins and Code was intercepted by a federal wiretap around that time. Code told Dawkins that he had “bad news” about the payments to the player’s family. “My group gets an email about the invoice (that) asks for all these (purchase order) numbers and vendor numbers and blah blah blah blah blah,” Code says, referring to Adidas’ internal system meant to explain the payments.

Code then told Dawkins that he had expected Gatto and Adidas to handle the payment to the player’s family “off the books,” according to the federal documents, noting that Code’s “group” had received payments that year that didn’t go through the official system.

Code told Dawkins that when he had tried to submit an invoice to Adidas for the $100,000 in payments to the player’s family, routed through his own consulting company, Adidas didn’t have any record of his company in its system.

Code said he would have to create a “vendor number” for his company and then a “purchase order” to justify the $100,000 payment and, as a result of that process, they would not have access to the money for several weeks.

According to the federal case, Code then asked Dawkins whether he, Sood or the undercover FBI agent could make the first payment to the player’s father, because the player’s father had been pressuring them for the money. Code said the payment would be reimbursed.

Brian Bowen Sr. did not return the Herald-Leader’s request for comment Friday.

A few days after that call, Code, Sood and the undercover agent spoke in another call recorded by federal authorities, and Code explained how athletic apparel companies masked other, similar payments to high school athletes.

Code was a Nike employee before his employment with Adidas.

Code said that the process of getting the money through Adidas would take another two or three weeks, and that the player’s father had expected Dawkins to “help him do some things a month ago.” Code added that “for cleanliness and lack of questions,” the initial payment to the player’s father should be made in cash, according to the federal documents. The undercover agent then agreed to supply the $25,000 for the first payment.

“You guys are being introduced to … how stuff happens with kids and getting into particular schools, and so this is kind of one of those instances where we need to step up and help one of our flagship schools in (University-6), you know, secure a five-star caliber kid,” Code told Sood and the agent, according to the federal documents. “Obviously that helps, you know, our potential business … and that’s an (Company-1-sponsored) school.”

Louisville is an Adidas-sponsored school.

Code then said that by funneling the payments to players through third parties, Adidas was “not engaging in a monetary relationship with an amateur athlete. We’re engaging in a monetary relationship with a business manager, and whatever he decides to do with it, that’s between him and the family.”

The payment

On or about July 11, according to the federal documents, the undercover agent gave Sood the $25,000 intended for the player’s father, who, according to Sood and Dawkins, would be flying to New York to get the money.

In a phone call two days later that was intercepted by a federal wiretap, a man described in the documents as the player’s father told Dawkins that he was renting a car to meet Sood, and Dawkins said Sood had $19,500 for the father and that he would take care of “everything else.”

The next day, in another conversation intercepted by the federal wiretap, Sood told Dawkins that he had given the player’s father cash and that he believed they had secured the player’s commitment to retain Sood and Dawkins as representatives when the player got to the NBA.

Dawkins stated that if the player was one-and-done, he could be a top 20 pick, but that if he spent two years in college he “should be a top 10 pick.”

Two weeks later, in another call intercepted by the federal wiretap, Dawkins expressed concern with the delay by Adidas officials Code and Gatto to secure the full $100,000 to pay the player’s family, telling Code that he did not want anything “funky” to happen with the money because he did not have $100,000 of his own to pay the player’s family. Code said he might have to lean on a “senior executive” at Adidas (who is not named in the documents) to finance the payments.

Code told Dawkins that the $100,000 payment was going to be on the books at Adidas as a payment to an “outside organization” affiliated with Code. When Dawkins expressed surprise that the $100,000 was going to be on the Adidas books at all, Code told him that Gatto had identified it as “a payment to my team, to my organization. So it’s on the books, (but) it’s not on the books for what it’s actually for.”

The Vegas meeting

A few days after that, a meeting in Las Vegas — that coincided with the dates of the Adidas Summer Championships event for high school recruits — took place involving Dawkins, Adidas team director Brad Augustine (who has also been charged with federal crimes), the undercover agent posing as a financial backer and a cooperating witness for the federal investigation that has been indentified as financial adviser Marty Blazer. The meeting also included “Coach-1,” the as-of-yet publicly unidentified assistant coach from Louisville.

The first part of the meeting was used to discuss another player that Louisville was recruiting — identified as a top prospect in the class of 2019 — and Dawkins explained that he had dealt with coaches at U of L on the “Player-10” recruitment.

According to the federal documents, “Coach-1” told the group that — since Louisville was already on probation due to the recent stripper scandal — they would have to be “very low key” with payments to the families of players and recruits.

It was during this meeting that, according to the federal documents, Augustine said he expected Adidas to fund at least a portion of the payments to the family of his player (“Player-11”) because “no one swings a bigger d--- than (Coach-2)” at Adidas, adding that “all (Coach-2 has to do) is pick up the phone and call somebody (and say) these are my guys, they’re taking care of us.”

“Coach-2” has been identified in multiple reports as Pitino.

After “Coach-1” left the room, the discussion turned back to “Player-10” and the planned $100,000 payment to his family, and, in particular, the involvement of “Coach-2” in securing funding from Adidas for the player’s family.

Looking back on the recruitment, Dawkins said that a rival athletic apparel company (which is not named) had been “coming with a higher number” to try and get the player, and he needed more money from Adidas as a result. Dawkins then said that he had personally spoken to “Coach-2” — again, reported to be Pitino — and told the coach that he needed to call Gatto to get the money for the player’s family.

The federal documents state that on or about May 27 — a few days before Bowen’s commitment to Louisville — Gatto had two phone conversations with a phone number used by “Coach-2.” Gatto had a third conversation with that number on June 1, two days before Bowen’s commitment to the Cardinals.

The aftermath

In mid-August, according to the federal documents, Dawkins confirmed to an undercover agent that the group had made the first $25,000 payment to the player’s family and that Code had reimbursed Dawkins for that payment on behalf of Adidas.

Dawkins also discussed the subject of future payments to the player’s family.

According to the federal documents, Dawkins added that he was in the process of signing people to agreements — including family members of the players they were paying for — because, “I want us as protected as possible across the board.”

Dawkins said, according to the documents, that he understood some of the money the group was using to buy players could not be completely accounted for on paper “because some of it is, whatever you want to call it, illegal.”

The federal case states that a review of banking records confirmed a $25,000 payment to Dawkins — the reimbursement for the first payment to the player’s family — and that money came from an account linked to an Adidas-affiliated basketball program. Around the same time, that bank account received an incoming transfer of $30,000 from an “account associated with an (Company-1) entity.”

The federal documents also state that Code and Gatto started making plans in mid-September to make a second payment of $25,000 to the family of “Player-10.”

Gatto noted that they would “figure out the other ($50,000) in ’18.”

U of L interim president Greg Postel announced Wednesday that Pitino and Athletics Director Tom Jurich had both been placed on administrative leave. It is expected that both Pitino and Jurich will be fired.

Pitino released a statement Friday afternoon.

“As I’ve previously stated, I had no knowledge of any payments to any recruit or their family,” the statement said. “But I was the head coach and I will take ownership of my decisions. The University took the action they thought was necessary and I will do the same.”

Louisville announced Friday that assistant coach David Padgett, who has not been implicated in any wrongdoing as a result of the federal investigation, would coach the team this season.

U of L also announced Wednesday that a member of the Cardinals’ basketball team had been removed from team activities. A university spokesman confirmed to the Courier-Journal on Friday that the suspended player is indeed Bowen.

“I’m going in and looking to have a big impact, whatever school I go to,” Bowen told the Herald-Leader on that night in late April, exuding enthusiasm about the next step in his basketball career.

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