An FBI telephone wiretap captured Arizona men’s basketball Coach Sean Miller discussing a $100,000 bribe to ensure star recruit Deandre Ayton signed with his team, ESPN reported late Friday evening.
The story — published hours after a Yahoo Sports report on hundreds of pages of documents that suggested current and former players at more than 20 Division I schools broke NCAA rules by receiving impermissible benefits — is the most significant revelation to date from an ongoing FBI probe into corruption in college basketball.
Miller and Arizona athletics officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday evening.
According to ESPN, which sourced its report to “people with knowledge of the FBI investigation,” Miller and Christian Dawkins, a low-level employee for a sports agency, had multiple recorded conversations about Ayton, a 7-foot-1 center from the Bahamas who is regarded as one of the most talented freshmen in the country.
The revelations raise questions about whether Miller, 49, a former coach at Xavier who has led Arizona to three Elite Eight appearances in his first eight seasons, soon could be ensnared in the sprawling federal case that has his former assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson facing federal charges. According to ESPN, Dawkins mentioned contacting Richardson to arrange the specifics of the bribe in conversations with Miller, but Miller told Dawkins to deal directly with him when it came to money.
ESPN’s report capped a day that began with Yahoo’s report that also sent shock waves through the college sports landscape.
The report was based on internal documents obtained from ASM Sports, a company founded by former NBA agent Andy Miller that was raided in September by the FBI as part of the ongoing federal investigation of corruption in college basketball, according to Yahoo. The documents purportedly detail cash advances — many of them also involving Dawkins, the employee involved in the alleged Arizona bribe — given to a number of players along with entertainment and travel expenses accrued as Miller’s agency pursued players before they became professional.
Published weeks before the NCAA’s showcase event and premier moneymaker — the men’s basketball tournament — Friday’s report is a sign that the Justice Department’s investigation, which thus far has produced criminal charges against four assistant coaches and a top Adidas executive, could continue to impact major college basketball for months, if not years.
Among the current players implicated in the documents, according to Yahoo:
- Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, whose mother may have received $400. Spartans Coach Tom Izzo said in a statement Friday that he did not believe any of his current players or coaches had broken any NCAA rules.
- USC’s Bennie Boatwright, whose father may have taken $2,000, and Chimezie Metu, whose adviser may have taken $2,000. USC said it would cooperate with any federal or NCAA investigation.
- Texas’s Eric Davis Jr., who may have received $1,500. Texas officials released a statement saying they were looking into the allegations.
- South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, whose family may have received $7,000. Bowen’s father was previously implicated in a federal complaint as agreeing to take $100,000 in bribes in exchange for ensuring his son would attend Louisville, which Bowen’s father has denied.
- Duke’s Wendell Carter and Kentucky’s Kevin Knox may have received free meals, according to documents. Duke released a statement Friday asserting Carter had not broken any NCAA rules, while Knox’s father also denied to a reporter that his son committed any violations.
It’s unclear if the NCAA will launch any enforcement investigations based on Friday’s report.
“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement released Friday.
Among the former players listed in the documents:
- Dennis Smith Jr., who played at North Carolina State in 2016-17, received $73,500 in loans, according to the documents, which included notes about “options to recoup the money” if Smith did not sign with the agency.
- Markelle Fultz, the former Washington player and No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, received $10,000, according to the documents. He did not sign with ASM.
- Bam Adebayo, who played one season at Kentucky in 2016-17 and is listed as receiving $12,000 on one document and $36,500 in a later reference (the words “bad loan” are listed alongside his name; he did not sign with ASM).
- Diamond Stone, at the time a freshman at Maryland, received $14,303, according to the documents.
Smith, Fultz, Adebayo and Stone were unable to immediately be reached to comment Friday. In a statement, Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon denied having any relationship with Miller, the agent whose company produced these records.
The documents do not appear to contain information suggesting coaches or officials at schools were aware of the alleged payments but instead portray investments by Miller and his employees in NBA prospects, years before they were eligible to play professionally.
The bulk of the documents appear to be expense reports filed by Christian Dawkins, a former employee of Miller and one of the nine men facing criminal charges as part of the federal probe. Dawkins and two Adidas officials are set for trial in October on charges of wire fraud. The four coaches — from Arizona, Southern Cal, Auburn and Oklahoma State — are set for separate trials in early 2019 for charges including conspiracy to commit bribery and solicitation of bribes.
While Friday’s report sent shock waves through college basketball circles, it also raised questions about the status and direction of the Justice Department’s investigation, which lawyers for defendants have criticized as a waste of federal law enforcement resources that has resulted in criminal charges against mostly low-level figures in the shadow economy around major college basketball.
Miller, the prominent former NBA agent whose company produced all of these records, has not been charged with a crime, and neither have any of his other agents.
“These assistant coaches, low-level shoe company and sports management employees are now facing prison terms, while the very people they worked for, whose pockets they allegedly were lining with millions of dollars of cash, have entirely escaped federal prosecution,” said Steven Haney, attorney for Dawkins, the former agent. “ By definition, these criminal defendants are fall guys.”
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York declined to comment Friday.
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