John Clay

No smoking guns in college basketball corruption trial, but lots of harsh light

The so-called college basketball corruption trial is reportedly winding down in New York, with the case handed to the jury either by the end of this week or early next.

There hasn’t been an overriding bombshell in this the first of three trials over the next year that originated with charges from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York as part of an FBI investigation into the underbelly of the sport, including alleged bribes, payments and possible defrauding of schools and athletics programs.

No current college head coach has been implicated directly in testimony. No one of significance in the sport has been heard on an FBI wiretap, or at least none has been admitted into evidence. No school has been accused of directly working with shoe companies or AAU teams to recruit players in direct violation of team rules.

That has been plenty of detailed claims to cast an unflattering light on the sport, however. Kansas, Louisville, Arizona, North Carolina State, Oregon, among others, have all been dragged in the mix. Both the government and the defense appear to agree on the facts. But the legal teams defending Adidas executives Jim Gatto and Merl Code, plus would-be agent Christian Dawkins, have tried to convince the jury that their clients did what everyone in college basketball does — pay players to sign with certain programs.

And college basketball’s reaction to all this?

North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said last week he was “dumbfounded” by what he had heard from the trial. “The world that they are explaining out there, that world that’s on national news, I am not familiar with. Period,” he said.

Over at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski agreed. “I think it’s minute, it’s a blip,” said the Blue Devils. coach. “It’s not what’s happening.”

It should be noted neither coach was under oath.

Who are they trying to kid? It is what’s happening, of course, and what has happened forever. Shady deals. Under-the-table payments. Shoe companies conspiring to get players to attend schools affiliated with those shoe companies. The seedy AAU influence. It’s all of a piece with the world of college basketball recruiting. Same as it ever was.

Yet those dumbfounded/blitz takes are in line with coaches’ reactions to the college basketball reform commission, headed by Condoleezza Rice. There’s no problem, said the coaches. AAU basketball is good, not bad. Apparel companies are good, not bad. Nothing to see. Nothing to fix. Move along.

Then again, maybe the coaches don’t want to know. Plausible deniability. Hire an assistant coach/recruiter who can get players and stay out of the way. Do what you have to do and don’t get caught. Same goes for the shoe companies.

Last week included testimony of how former Louisville coach Rick Pitino was kept in the dark about Adidas’ alleged $100,000 in payments to Brian Bowen’s family for Bowen to attend U of L. Not that Pitino is off the hook. Louisville fired the coach not so much for this scandal, but for a succession of scandals from Karen Sypher to the Andre McGee/stripper entertainment parties for recruits. Once again, if Pitino didn’t know, he should have known.

You could make the same argument about Kansas, who was prominently mentioned on Monday. Former Adidas consultant Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola testified that Gatto, Adidas’ former executive director, told him Kansas Coach Bill Self called to thank him after Silvio De Sousa committed to Kansas. Gassnola testified he provided payments to DeSousa and Billy Preston, without Kansas’ knowledge, for the duo to sign with the Jayhawks. Text messages with the Kansas coaches presented Monday cast some doubt on that claim, but offered no smoking guns.

You could say the same thing about the trial. Still, if nothing else, it has detailed a shadow recruiting industry involving agents, apparel companies and the AAU. It’s an industry coaches and the NCAA claim to know little about. Yet it’s the coaches and the NCAA who, obviously, benefit greatly from its existence. Many would argue that’s the real crime.

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