The University of Kentucky was mentioned in the latest development related to the ongoing and widespread corruption scandal in college basketball, though no wrongdoing against the UK program was implied in a court filing Wednesday.
A motion filed in federal court seeking the dismissal of charges against attorney Michael Avenatti alleged corruption by senior officials in the Nike grassroots basketball program that included a plan to pay top-level recruits while they were still in high school.
The filing on behalf of Avenatti accuses Nike officials of conspiring to pay at least $35,000 to Zion Williamson, $20,000 to Romeo Langford, and $15,000 to a player from Michigan who was not named because he is a minor. There was nothing in the filing that alleged any wrongdoing on the part of those players, and there was no evidence presented that the players or anyone close to them were even made aware of the alleged plan.
UK extended scholarship offers to both Williamson and Langford — top-10 recruits in the 2018 class — though they backed off of Langford’s recruitment before it reached its final stages. Both recruits played their final season of grassroots basketball on the Adidas circuit, which was rocked by scandal nearly two years ago.
Williamson played for Duke last season and was the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft, while Langford ended up at home-state Indiana and was the No. 14 pick in this year’s draft.
The bulk of Wednesday’s court filing revolves around the Avenatti legal team’s argument that federal investigators mishandled the case that led to charges against him earlier this year. The celebrity lawyer was charged with extortion, and federal investigators characterized his conduct toward Nike as a “shakedown” — accusing Avenatti of threatening to release evidence against the company unless Nike agreed to a payment of more than $20 million.
Carlton DeBose, the head of Nike’s EYBL circuit, is mentioned throughout the filing as one of the officials who was allegedly involved in the plan to pay high school players.
In the filing on behalf of Avenatti, one of the examples attempting to show Nike officials’ role in the plan mentioned communication between DeBose and a member of UK’s basketball staff.
“DeBose acknowledged in an exchange of text messages with an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky that Nike was funneling payments to high school players through at least ten different EYBL coaches,” according to the filing, which does not mention the UK assistant coach by name and implies no wrongdoing on behalf of the coach or Kentucky’s basketball program.
That was the only mention of UK in the 50-page filing, which went on to outline Avenatti’s public feud with President Donald Trump and his representation of adult film star Stormy Daniels.
The filing also details previous claims by Avenatti that Nike used his client, longtime travel team coach Gary Franklin, to make payments to associates of two of his highest-profile players, DeAndre Ayton and Bol Bol, while they were still in high school.
Two Adidas officials were found guilty last year of federal crimes related to the college basketball corruption scandal, which also led to the arrest of four assistant coaches at major colleges and directly resulted in Rick Pitino’s ouster as the head coach of Louisville in 2017.