John Clay

College basketball corruption trial starts with a bang with surely more to come

North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. was congratulated by Coach Mark Gottfried during a game in 2017. An attorney for former Adidas executive Jim Gatto admitted during trial Tuesday that her client paid Smith’s family $40,000 for the star guard to attend North Carolina State. Smith now plays for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. was congratulated by Coach Mark Gottfried during a game in 2017. An attorney for former Adidas executive Jim Gatto admitted during trial Tuesday that her client paid Smith’s family $40,000 for the star guard to attend North Carolina State. Smith now plays for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. AP

It’s starting up again.

After the big splash of four college basketball assistant coaches being arrested and charged in September of 2017, not a lot of public news has been made in the basketball corruption case brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

That all changed this week with the first of three trials, which started with jury selection on Monday in New York and proceeded to opening statements on Tuesday. Right off the bat, new and sordid accusations flew.

According to Dan Wetzel, covering the trial for Yahoo Sports, defense attorney Casey Donnelly admitted that her client, former Adidas executive Jim Gatto, did pay the family of recruit Brian Bowen $100,000 to attend Louisville. But Gatto only did so, alleged Donnelly, because Nike school Oregon was offering Bowen money to play for Ducks. The attorney also admitted Gatto paid Dennis Smith Jr.’s family $40,000 to go to North Carolina State.

And they’re just getting started.

This particular case deals with former sports agent Christian Dawkins, former AAU coach Merl Code and Gatto, all of which are accused of paying recruits’ families to attend Adidas school. All three have plead innocent to the charges.

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On Feb. 4, 2019, former Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person is scheduled to stand trial for charges he accepted a total of $91,500 over several months in exchange for steering players to certain financial advisers.

On April 22, 2019, former assistants Book Richardson of Arizona, Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State and Tony Bland of Southern Cal are scheduled to go on trial for allegedly accepting bribes from Dawkins and Munish Sood, the latter a financial adviser who was one of 10 men arrested by the FBI in connection with the case. Sood pleaded guilty in August.

Since news of the scandal first broke last September, there has been plenty of reports, speculation and even dismissals, in the case of the four arrested assistants, plus famously Louisville coach Rick Pitino and athletics director Tom Jurich. Still, there was also the feeling that much more would eventually come out once the cases came before jury.

That’s already turning out to be the case. On Monday, potential jurors were given a list of schools that might come up in the trial. That list included Arizona, Creighton, DePaul, Louisville, LSU, North Carolina State, Miami, Oklahoma State, Texas and Southern Cal, to name a few.

They were also provided a list of names associated with the case which included recruits Bowen, Silvio De Sousa, Balsa Koprivica, Nassir Little and Zion Williamson as well as coaches Pitino, Bill Self, Jim Larranaga, Sean Miller and Mark Gottfried, to name a few.

The government is arguing that the shoe companies, agents and financial advisers kept head coaches and university officials in the dark about what was going on, a practice that defrauded the schools. The defendants apparently will argue that the coaches and schools knew what was going on all along. In fact, the defendants claim their actions were the result of instructions from coaches and school officials.

Pitino was not specifically named Tuesday as one of those coaches, but the trial is in its beginning stage. Besides, his Louisville firing had as much to do with “enough already” as the Bowen mess. After the Karen Sypher sex scandal and the Andre McGee stripper scandal, more possible Pitino trouble was more than the school could bear.

As for other schools and coaches, surely anxiety abounds. For example, there had been no public mention of Nike or Oregon in association with the case until Donnelly’s opening statement on Tuesday. The attorney also alleged that apparel company Under Armour paid De Sousa $20,000 to commit to the Terps before the forward ended up at Kansas, an Adidas school. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank is a Maryland graduate.

The trial is expected to last at least three weeks. Those promise to be long, excruciating and embarrassing weeks, not only for the schools already mentioned but the ones that could pop up in the course of testimony and cross-examination.

And they’re just getting started.

Michael Sokolove wrote a new book about corruption in college basketball. It’s title is "The Last Temptation of Rick Pitino."

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