10 Things You Need To Know About The Adidas Basketball Trial

10 Things You Need To Know About The Adidas Basketball Trial

The Adidas basketball trial is implicating — and not implicating — some important figures in college basketball in one of the sport's biggest scandals.

Oct 12, 2018 by Adam Zagoria
10 Things You Need To Know About The Adidas Basketball Trial

NEW YORK — I've been embedded in the Adidas college basketball bribery trial — aka "U.S. vs. Gatto" — for the last two weeks, covering the proceedings for a number of newspapers and outlets nationwide.

The fireworks so far have included Brian Bowen Sr. detailing payments he accepted over the years from various AAU and high schools teams in return for his son, Brian Bowen Jr., playing for those squads, as well as financial offers relayed to him by Christian Dawkins, one of three defendants in the case, from various colleges for his son's services. Thomas "T.J." Gassnola, a former Adidas consultant, also testified this week that he made payments to the families of five high-profile players in an effort to get them to pick Adidas colleges and ultimately sign with Adidas upon going pro: Bowen (Louisville), Deandre Ayton (Arizona), Silvio de Sousa (Kansas), Billy Preston (Kansas), and Dennis Smith Jr. (N.C. State).

Both Bowen and Gassnola made deals with the government to exempt them from punishment in exchange for testimony.

Here are 10 things you need to know as the trial enters its third week on Monday.

1. There's been no evidence Sean Miller approved a $100,000 payment to Deandre Ayton.

Back in February, ESPN.com wrote a highly publicized — and controversial — story saying that "FBI wiretaps intercepted telephone conversations between Arizona coach Sean Miller and Christian Dawkins, a key figure in the FBI's investigation into college basketball corruption, in which Miller discussed paying $100,000 to ensure star freshman Deandre Ayton signed with the Wildcats." The story cited "sources familiar with the government's evidence."

Through the first seven days of the trial, no such telephone conversations have been played in the courtroom before Judge Lewis A. Kaplan and the jury, and no mention of them has been made.

Miller and Ayton both denied the story, and Miller didn't address it this week when asked by reporters.

Gassnola, who looks like he stepped straight out of "The Sopranos," testified this week that he gave $15,000 to a family friend of Ayton's during his junior year of high school, and that the money was intended for Ayton's mother. Ayton played at just one Adidas event in high school, and never played for any Adidas AAU team. He then chose Arizona, a Nike school, and signed a shoe deal with Puma after entering the NBA.

Arizona has also been linked to Nassir Little via an alleged proposed payment of $150,000 for the 6-foot-7 wing now at North Carolina. The offer was discussed by Dawkins and fellow defendant Merl Code on various wiretaps played in court, but there is no independent evidence that Arizona ever actually made the offer.

Bowen Sr. also testified that Dawkins told him former Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack offered $50,000 for Bowen Jr., but again there has been no independent evidence the offer was made. Bowen Sr. said Arizona was his son's top choice, but that once Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier opted to return for the 2017-18 season, his son chose Louisville as a "basketball decision" after Donovan Mitchell left Louisville for the NBA. Bowen Sr. schemed with Dawkins and Code to get $100,000 from Adidas for the Louisville decision. It remains unclear what would've happened had Bowen Jr. actually picked Arizona. Presumably Dawkins/Adidas would've had to come up with the $50,000 for the alleged payment from Arizona.

2. Kansas' Bill Self and Kurtis Townsend haven't been implicated.

Kansas figured heavily in Gassnola's testimony as the former Adidas consultant said he made $89,000 worth of payments to Billy Preston's mother, Nicole Player, and her partner, Timicha Kirby, beginning in the fall of 2016, and also made a $2,500 payment to the guardian of Silvio de Sousa. Gassnola said he did not make a separate payment of $20,000 to de Sousa's guy, Fenny Falmagne. De Sousa is currently at Kansas, and both he and Self have said he will play this year. Preston is with the Cleveland Cavaliers G League club.

Asked directly if it was his understanding that Kansas head coach Bill Self or assistant Kurtis Townsend requested the payment to de Sousa, Gassnola testified, "No, not at all."

As for Ayton, who considered Kansas along with Arizona, Gassnola was asked if Self wanted Ayton to attend Kansas.

"He was the No. 1 player in the country," he said. "Everybody recruited him."

Asked if he felt he let Self, who coaches at one the so-called Adidas flagship schools, down by not being able to secure Ayton for Kansas, Gassnola said, "I did."

3. Gassnola testified that Rick Pitino didn't know about the Bowen payments.

Former Louisville coach Rick Pitino has steadfastly maintained throughout the whole Bowen scandal -- which cost the Hall of Fame coach his job last year -- that he knew nothing of the Adidas scheme to funnel $100,000 to Brian Bowen Sr.

Gassnola backed that position up when, during an animated phone call with Dawkins played for the jury and during his testimony, he said only four people knew about the payments: Gassnola, Dawkins, Code and former Adidas executive Jim Gatto.

4. Current DePaul, La Salle assistants allegedly made payments to Brian Bowen Sr.

De Paul and La Salle haven't figured nearly as prominently in the trial as schools like Louisville, Kansas, Arizona, N.C. State, and Miami, but they are relevant here.

Bowen Sr. testified that current La Salle assistant and former Louisville associate head coach Kenny Johnson gave him $1,300 in cash on Aug. 23, 2017 to help defray his family's rent at the Galt House in Louisville after Bowen Jr. committed there in June 2017. Johnson has denied the claim, and La Salle had no comment this week.

Meantime, Bowen Sr. also testified that two current DePaul assistants, Shane Heirman and Tim Anderson, paid him while his son was in high school. Bowen Sr. said Heirman, then the coach at La Lumiere (IN), gave him $8,000 "over a period of time" for "expenses." Bowen helped La Lumiere win the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School Nationals title in 2017. Bowen Sr. also said Anderson gave him $1,500 for his son to play with the Nike MeanStreets AAU program.

Bowen actually mentioned two Nike teams paying for his son's services, Spiece Indy Heat being the other, so although this trial revolves around four Adidas schools, Nike has figured into it.

5. Adidas didn't get much return on its investments.

Gassnola testified he made payments to the families of five players because he wanted to help Adidas and their flagship schools.

"These players were either going to our [Adidas] Universities or we wanted them to go to our Universities," Gassnola testified Wednesday.

Yet when you look at it, Adidas didn't get much a return on its investments.

Ayton never had much of anything to do with Adidas, picked a Nike school and signed with Puma.

Adidas laid out nearly $90,000 to Preston's family, yet he never played a single game for Kansas and is now in the G League.

Adidas paid out $2,500 for de Sousa, who's still at Kansas and could be a key role player on an NCAA championship-caliber team this year.

Adidas was prepared to pay $100,00 for Bowen (although GAssnola said he only authorized $25,000 initially), but Bowen never played a single game at Louisville and is now playing professionally in Australia. He's considered a borderline first-round NBA pick in 2019.

Using money that apparently originated from former agent Andy Miller, Adidas paid Smith Jr's family $40,000 but he signed with Under Armour out of N.C. State, something that Gassnola did not appreciate one bit.

In a text dated July 4, 2017, Gassnola told Gatto: "Wish u would tell Dennis to beat it. The disrespect is out of line."

6. The prosecution has a tough time proving intent.

In order for the government to win this case against defendants Gatto, Code and Dawkins, it has to prove that they intended to defraud the so-called "victim schools," Louisville, Kansas, N.C. State and Miami. This seems hard to do.

The defense has consistently maintained that their clients may have violated a slew of NCAA rules by arranging payments to players, that is not the same as violating federal laws.

"It’s not a crime to pay somebody in cash,” Mark Moore, Code's attorney, said last week in court. “It’s not a crime to create a fake invoice. It’s only a crime if you do so with the intent to defraud a specific school.”

7. The judge doesn't seem very fond of the defense.

Despite what I wrote above, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan doesn't seem fond of the defense's argument.

“These young people are supposed to be amateurs,” Kaplan told the court as jury selection began. “They are not supposed to be paid to pick one school over another. The allegation is the defendants were paying, or causing to be paid, players to pick one school instead of another.”

Kaplan has repeatedly clashed with Gatto's attorney, Michael Schachter, asking him, "Can we please move along here?" whenever he thinks Schachter is making his closing argument while cross-examining witnesses.

It's not quite a scene from "My Cousin Vinny," but it's close.

8. This will make a great movie.

Speaking of movies, this should make a great one. I talked to at least two screenwriter/filmmaker guys who attended the trial, one of whom is already working on a screenplay. It has the makings of "Blue Chips" meets "The Sopranos" meets "My Cousin Vinny."

9. It's quite a scene for the media.

Every day when we enter the courthouse, we have to surrender electronic devices including phones and laptops and we can't get access to them until lunch or other breaks. So it's a funny scene at lunch as reporters from ESPN, Yahoo, The Washington Post and other outlets scramble to get our phones and Tweet out the latest news from the courthouse steps.

10. Oh by the way, there's some great music in New York this week.

OK, this isn't directly related to the trial, but while this is going on, Eric Clapton, The Eagles, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Tyler Childers are all playing the Big Apple. I highly recommend them all after seeing The Eagles Tuesday and Tyler Wednesday, with TTB up Friday.

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