Arizona, USC & Schools Linked To FBI Probe Are Thriving On Recruiting Trail


Take one look at the recruiting rankings for the class of 2019 and you might be a little surprised.

USC and Louisville are ranked first and second, according to the 247Sports "2019 Basketball Team Rankings."

Arizona is No. 8, Auburn is No. 12, and Oklahoma State is No. 17.

What do all of those schools have in common?

They were all swept up in the FBI probe into bribery in college basketball that resulted in the arrests a year ago of 10 men, including assistant coaches from Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State, and USC. Louisville coach Rick Pitino ended up getting fired a year ago in the wake of the pay-for-play scheme involving Adidas and Brian Bowen Sr.

A year after the arrests, Bowen Sr. appeared in federal court on Thursday, and in an explosive and emotional scene said that Christian Dawkins, one of three defendants in the case, told him Arizona, Oklahoma State, Creighton, and Texas all offered cash and/or other perks in return for his son's commitment to their schools.

Despite all this, recruiting is thriving for many of the schools caught up in the scandal.

Under Andy Enfield, USC has a five-man recruiting class ranked No. 1 in 2019, while Louisville, led by first-year coach Chris Mack, has its own five-man class ranked No. 2. The Cardinals are also strongly in the mix for 6-foot-10 Lawrence Woodmere (NY) big man Aidan Igiehon, who canceled an official visit to St. John's this weekend and is strongly considering Louisville (along with Oregon).

Arizona, meantime, landed elite point guard Nico Mannion last month, and on Thursday secured a pledge from top-10 wing Josh Green of Australia. For their Red/Blue Game next weekend, Sean Miller and company will also host Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, a power forward who plays with Green at IMG Academy (FL).

"When you look at Arizona's case, the [trial] of the assistant coaches isn't going to start until April, so that's way off in the distance," said longtime New York-based recruiting expert Tom Konchalski, who has attended several days of the current trial. "And who knows how long that will take? And a lot of the kids and their families just don't care.

"You know why? Because they're not thinking about sending them to a nurturing college situation, where they're going to be there for four years. This is with the elite players. This is going to be a one-year way station on the way to the NBA. I think that has a lot to do with it. So they're just looking for the right fit to get their son, or get themselves, to get in the NBA as quickly possible. It's more that than anything else."

Chris Williams of the Adidas-sponsored Game Elite AAU program has had several of his players commit this fall, including guard Josh Nickelberry to Louisville and forward Jaylin Williams to Auburn. (He also coached current Kentucky freshman Ashton Hagans.)

"Well, with the whole Louisville thing, Mack and Mike Pegues were doing a great job with Josh and Jaylin prior to going to Louisville," Williams said, referring to Mack's tenure at Xavier. "So once they went to Louisville, they just continued that relationship with Josh and Jaylin.

"Now Jaylin just decided that coach Bruce [Pearl of Auburn] has been in there doing his work since he was in the ninth grade recruiting Jaylin and developing that relationship, so Jaylin thought that was a better fit for him than Louisville. And Josh thought vice versa, as far as Louisville being the best fit. Regardless of everything else, those relationships were built prior to that."

Mack, hired after Pitino was fired and interim coach David Padgett was not brought back, has a reputation as a tremendous coach who does things the right way.

"It's a different regime and none of their poeple have been indicted," Konchalski said of the new Louisville staff.

Still, the drip-drip of revelations from the trial continues to impact Louisville, Arizona, and the other schools.

On Thursday, prosecutors alleged that former Louisville associate head coach Kenny Johnson (now at La Salle) paid Bowen Sr. $1,300, while former assistant Jordan Fair reportedly gave another unnamed prospect $900.

This was the first time Louisville's coaches were directly linked to payments in the Adidas scheme to funnel players to the school.

Pitino told the Courier Journal he was "dumbfounded and devastated" by the Johnson allegation.

"He looked me square in the eye and said he did nothing wrong," Pitino said. "I hope it's not true."

Meantime, as the Courier-Journal wrote, "the NCAA cannot investigate the allegations until the FBI completes its investigation, so Johnson and Fair have been neither cleared nor condemned by the NCAA."

Prior to this revelation, Williams said Louisville officials assured Nickelberry's family that the school was not facing future penalties.

"They assured us that obviously they were still in the news and all that, but they were in good standing," Williams said.

As for Arizona, Bowen Sr. on Thursday said that Dawkins relayed to him that former assistant Joe Pasternack was offering "50 grand" for Bowen Jr. to pick the school. He also said Dawkins told him Oklahoma State was offering "$150,000 cash," plus money for a car and a house. He said Creighton "would pay like $100,000 and a lucrative job" and Texas "would help me with housing."

There has been no proof provided that these offers were actually made and it may well have been that Dawkins, a pathological BS-er, was making some of the offers up to drive up the price on Bowen.

Bowen Sr. is due back on the stand when the trial resumes Tuesday, so there may be more fireworks forthcoming.

In the meantime, Arizona, USC, Louisville, Auburn, and Oklahoma State continue to chug along in the recruiting race.

Asked if recruits were primarily concerned with finding the best situation for themselves, regardless of all this outside noise, Williams said, "Correct and the relationship that they have with that coach or assistant coach, or whatever the case may be."

Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who runs and contributes to The New York Times. Follow Adam on Twitter.

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