College Coaches Won’t Take Stand at NCAA Hoops Trial

MANHATTAN (CN) – A former runner to an NBA agent headed to trial next week in the college hoops scandal lost his bid Friday to have two big-name coaches take the stand.

LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, left, hugs and has a word with LSU basketball coach Will Wade after an Feb. 23, 2019, NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Bill Feig, File)

Federal prosecutors charged aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins about a year and a half ago with bribing three former assistant coaches from Nike-sponsored schools— Arizona’s Book Richardson, Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans and USC’s Tony Bland — to steer players to sign on as clients with Dawkins’ sports management agency once they turned pro.

The government alleges that during one meeting held on a yacht, Dawkins took $50,000 from undercover investigators and a cooperating witness to identify talented basketball players. The deal called for Dawkins to pay assistant coaches cash bribes in exchange for those coaches encouraging the players to become clients upon declaring for the NBA draft.

Ahead of Dawkins’ trial next week, defense attorney Steven Haney subpoenaed Louisiana State University coach Will Wade and University of Arizona coach Sean Miller to testify about the influence they exert over players on their teams and how they had relationships with Dawkins without the bribery arrangement.

Prosecutors asked the court to bar the witnesses, however, saying  it would improperly “put[] the NCAA and the NCAA’s rules on amateurism on trial.”

“Even if there is marginal relevance of such evidence, despite these coaches not having been alleged to have participated in the charged bribery scheme, the evidence would needlessly complicate and lengthen the trial, since it would introduce nongermane issues that the government would need to rebut,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman wrote in one response brief.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos granted the government’s motion to preclude the coaches’ testimony Friday morning during a pretrial hearing, remarking that it would be irrelevant to show whether the defendants had bribed coaches who they are not alleged to have solicited. 

Wade was recently reinstated at LSU after being indefinitely suspended since March 8 for major recruiting suspicions, following reports that an FBI wiretap from the summer of 2017 recorded Wade discussing a “strong-ass offer” and a “deal” for high school star player Javonte Smart.

Dawkins was already convicted last October, in the government’s first NCAA hoops scandal trial, alongside former Adidas consultant Merl Code of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan sentenced Dawkins and Code to six months in prison each, while former Adidas executive James Gatto got a nine-month sentence on two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud related to the University of Louisville and one count of wire fraud related to the University of Kansas. 

Expected to last two weeks, the next trial of Dawkins and Code is set to begin on April 22 with Judge Ramos presiding.

Code, who worked at Nike for 14 years before joining Adidas, is said in the indictment to have received thousands of dollars of payments per month from Dawkins and Dawkins’ company in exchange for his assistance leveraging his relationships with the college basketball coaches.

Because the NCAA basketball coaches were employed by federally funded universities, prosecutors say this bribery scheme constitutes conspiracy to give and offer bribes to agents of federally funded organizations. 

The indictment includes additional counts of substantive honest services wire fraud and conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.

The implicated assistant coaches, Richardson, Evans and Bland, were also charged with bribery before accepting plea deals.

NCAA Division I teams including Duke and Kentucky have not been directly implicated in the scandal, but some of their players were mentioned during the first trial.

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