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Report ties top college basketball players to illicit payments

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Michigan State guard/forward Miles Bridges warms up before a game against Northwestern on Feb. 17. Documents uncovered in a federal investigation indicate that college basketball players for several of the country’s most prominent programs — including Bridges — received financial and other benefits that could violate NCAA rules, according to Yahoo Sports.

Documents uncovered in a federal investigation indicate that college basketball players for several of the country’s most prominent programs — including Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan State — received financial and other benefits that could violate NCAA rules, according to Yahoo Sports.

The documents are believed to detail payments made to athletes through a sports agency that represents several top NBA players. Christian Dawkins, a former employee of the agency, ASM Sports, is one of the defendants in the federal prosecutors’ case. A complaint released in September accused him of helping to facilitate payments from Adidas to a high school prospect to get the prospect to go to Louisville and later sign with Adidas.

The prospect involved with the Louisville case, Brian Bowen, is named in the documents, which include a balance sheet from the end of 2015 listing loans to dozens of players, many of whom were in college.

Other players identified in the documents include former college players like North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr., Maryland’s Diamond Stone, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Washington’s Markelle Fultz, last year’s No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, according to Yahoo Sports. Current players mentioned in the documents include Michigan State sophomore Miles Bridges and Duke freshman Wendell Carter Jr.

The documents do not appear to indicate that the colleges were involved with or knew of the payments.

A UNC spokesman denied knowledge of what was outlined in the report, but pledged the program’s full cooperation with the federal inquiry. So did North Carolina State’s athletic director, Debbie Yow, who noted that the university formally disassociated in 2012 with Andy Miller, the agent who had headed ASM Sports. A Virginia spokesman said the school’s compliance office is reviewing the report. Representatives for other college teams did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Miller, ASM Sports’ former president, was not one of the defendants, but he gave up his accreditation as an NBA. agent in December. The office of ASM Sports was raided in September, shortly after the complaints were released, and Miller’s computer was seized. Miller was a longtime agent whose past clients included stars like Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups. More recent clients included the Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry (whose name appears in the documents) and the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis.

In the schemes outlined by federal officials, top high school basketball players were virtually for sale to the highest bidder, namely, teams backed by shoe companies. The process required fake purchase orders, coaches’ assents — and, crucially, middlemen like youth-league coaches, money managers and agents. Dawkins, who was Miller’s employee, was a particularly eager facilitator, according to federal investigators. His attorney did not return a request for comment today.

Earlier this week, three of the case’s 10 defendants, including Dawkins, lost on a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that what they were accused of doing do not constitute federal crimes. Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that an undercover agent who had worked the investigation had been accused of misappropriating funds, threatening his ability to serve as a witness.

It is not clear how teams will respond to today’s report. Under NCAA rules, they are supposed to hold out players whom they suspect of being ineligible. Michigan State may feel compelled not to play Bridges, their best player, as it enters next week’s Big Ten tournament as a national title contender.

Meanwhile, the bracket for the NCAA tournament will be released in a little more than two weeks, with the games themselves commencing a few days later. It is unclear what impact today’s news will have on that event, perhaps the most prominent on the college sports calendar and the one that is indispensable to the NCAA’s finances.

“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America,” Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, said in a statement released today.

In September, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York revealed three complaints painting a portrait of widespread corruption in the nebulous marketplace of college basketball recruiting. Four assistant coaches at high-major programs were said to have taken bribes in order to persuade players to sign with an agent or money manager upon reaching the NBA. In another complaint, unnamed coaches, an Adidas executive and others were accused of attempting to funnel money to recruits in exchange for their commitments to teams sponsored by Adidas and for pledges to sign with the apparel company later on.

Prosecutors said the defendants had violated federal law. But it is also likely that, if the allegations are true, their programs would have violated NCAA rules, which bar teams from paying players beyond a scholarship and related costs; from offering recruits inducements beyond ones strictly delineated in the NCAA rule book; and from playing athletes who were ineligible because, for example, they accepted illicit money.

The scandal cost several assistant coaches their jobs and could affect the eligibilities of current players. It also felled Rick Pitino, the head coach of Louisville, who according to someone familiar with the complaint was said to have spoken to the Adidas executive about securing the commitment of a top prospect. Pitino has denied any involvement in or knowledge of the scheme.

Last year, in response to the federal probe, Emmert convened an NCAA commission to examine men’s basketball. It is chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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