The college basketball season begins Tuesday with a doubleheader that includes the No. 1 team in the nation … the Kansas Jayhawks.
It’s a true showcase for everything the sport represents because one month after the first of three federal fraud trials unearthed a treasure trove of NCAA violations, KU will not feature suspended player Silvio De Sousa but will feature not-suspended coach Bill Self.
De Sousa is out while Kansas investigates whether his guardian, Fenny Falmagne, was paid $2,500 by a former so-called Adidas “bag man” T.J. Gassnola to send the 6-9 forward to Lawrence.
There is no indication, and it would fly against the way most of these deals work, that De Sousa had any idea what Falmagne was doing.
There are plenty of indications that Bill Self did have an idea what Falmagne was doing.
Yet De Sousa is suspended pending investigation and Self is not because, well, because this is college athletics and when scandal hits it’s perfectly fine for a coach to keep coaching but it’s not fine for a player to keep playing.
Start with this: When it comes to these kinds of deals, it is very common for the parents/guardian/AAU coach or whomever to not tell the teenage player about any monetary arrangements. In the same trial, Brian Bowen Sr. repeatedly testified that his son, Brian “Tugs” Bowen, knew nothing about years of under-the-table payments made to the family for Tugs’ services. Bowen Sr. said it would be too shameful to have mentioned it.
In this case, De Sousa hails from Angola and came to the America as a high schooler in search of opportunity. Through the process, Falmagne became his legal guardian. It is quite reasonable to assume Falmagne never told De Sousa anything (Falmagne, for his part, denies Gassnola’s account). There also has been zero evidence unearthed to suggest Falmagne did tell De Sousa.
Doesn’t matter. NCAA rules say the player doesn’t need to have knowledge of the actions of a third party. And thus, since he might be guilty, De Sousa is suspended just in case he’s later found guilty.
Forget the presumption of innocence. That’s saved for Bill Self.
Self was in constant contact with the Adidas AAU team director who was handling the money drop. Gassnola testified for two days about all of his ties to college coaches, including how he saw it as his job to deliver the best Adidas-sponsored high school and AAU players to Adidas-sponsored college teams.
No program was more important to Adidas than Kansas. The company and the school have a $191 million endorsement deal.
As that deal was about to be re-upped, Gassnola texted Self to thank him for helping get it done and making it clear how important Kansas was to Adidas.
“I’m happy with Adidas,” Self texted back. “Just got to get a couple of real guys.”
Gee, wonder what that meant?
“In my mind, it’s KU, Bill Self,” Gassnola texted back, intimating how Kansas deserved the best players before other Adidas schools such as Louisville and North Carolina State got theirs. “Everyone else fall into line. Too [expletive] bad. That’s what’s right for Adidas basketball. And I know I am RIGHT. The more you win, have lottery pics [sic] and you happy. That’s how it should work in my mind.”
“That’s how ur [sic] works at UNC and Duke,” Self texted, mentioning a couple of Nike-sponsored schools.
Gassnola mentioned Nike’s Kentucky connection, too, before texting: “I promise you I got this. I have never let you down. Except Dyondre [Deandre Ayton] lol. We will get it right.”
Gassnola testified that he paid a friend of Ayton’s $15,000 to get involved with the future No. 1 draft pick. He also tried to set up housing and a job for Ayton’s mother if Deandre attended KU. It didn’t come through. Ayton wound up at Arizona instead.
Gassnola stands a burly, goateed 6-foot-6. His personality is even larger than his frame. There is no one with even a modicum of intelligence who would look at him and think whatever “help” he was going to provide in recruiting involved, say, touting the size and scope of the KU library to recruits.
He has the same attorney as the Mafia hit man currently suspected of murdering former Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger in a federal prison last week. Gassnola is no mobster, but that’s a funny coincidence that might surprise no one.
Self, like just about every other coach in the sport, regularly met with Gassnola, including discussing Kansas recruiting, according to documents revealed at the trial and Gassnola’s own testimony.
The two were so close that in 2017, the night before his enshrinement in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Self and his wife had dinner with Gassnola, Adidas executive Jim Gatto, and their fiancée and wife, respectively. Gatto was found guilty on two counts of wire fraud at the October trial and is awaiting sentencing.
Self didn’t just talk and text with Gassnola, though. He allowed him near unfettered access to the program.
Gassnola and Gatto attended the October 2017 “Late Night at the Phog” event, which is the first practice of the season for KU. There they conveniently met the mother of Billy Preston, a touted Dallas area recruit who had just verbally committed to the Jayhawks.
Gassnola testified that he told Preston’s mother that night to stop taking money from other parties and just deal with him. Over the next 10 months he either wired or hand-delivered $89,000 to her. Preston wound up suspended for his freshman season after a KU investigation turned up some of the money transfers. He turned pro and after not being drafted signed a two-way contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In general, recruiting visits are carefully orchestrated by the school. It’s rare for anyone to come into contact with a player or their parents without design. Yet there was Gassnola in Lawrence meeting exactly the right person at exactly the right moment.
What a coincidence.
Then there is the case of De Sousa, who is still at KU and was on last year’s Final Four club, but likely will never play another minute.
Gassnola testified that for KU to sign De Sousa, his guardian needed to “get out from under” a deal where a Maryland booster had paid him $60,000. Gassnola went to work.
In August of 2017, KU assistant Kurtis Townsend texted Gassnola: “Coach Self just talked to Fenny let me know how it goes.”
That directly brings Gassnola into the middle of a recruitment. Gassnola texted Self later: “I talked with Fenny,”
“We good?” Self asked back.
“Always,” Gassnola texted. “That’s [sic] was light work. Ball is in his court now.”
Self and Gassnola talked on the phone later that night. De Sousa was soon a Jayhawk.
Gassnola repeatedly testified at the trial that Self didn’t specifically know about any payment he made to any player or their family. That may be a friend protecting a friend or it may technically be true.
Gassnola didn’t need to discuss specifics of the deal, though, and would be crazy to bother Self with details such as meeting Preston’s mother in New York and handing her $30,000.
Gassnola is no fool. He knew better.
Anyone who thinks Self was just a naïve bystander here, though, or better yet, as Kansas likes to believe it is, a “victim,” is a fool. They should know better.
Yet, this isn’t enough for Kansas to suspend Bill Self pending an investigation into the situation?
It’s great if college sports believes the coaches deserve the benefit of the doubt. That sounds reasonable. Let it all play out. This isn’t a serious crime (well, it shouldn’t be). But, then, the system is set up that the players get no such courtesy. They sit without recourse.
And sometimes sit and sit and sit.
Consider the case of Auburn’s Austin Wiley and Daniel Purifoy, who were caught up in a separate part of the case involving Tiger assistant coach Chuck Person. After the scandal broke, the two players cooperated fully with the school and NCAA. For their efforts, the NCAA suspended Wiley for an entire season and Purifoy got a year … plus nine games.
So, Purifoy is still disqualified because apparently a full season wasn’t enough.
Meanwhile, almost no one who wears a suit or carries a clipboard has faced even a slap on the wrist.
If you’re a player, why bother even cooperating? Better to be like a coach and just deny, deny, deny and hide behind previous statements and sycophant administrators. After all, the season is starting on ESPN, but without the player from Angola.
The Hall of Fame coach whose team never loses the conference race will be there.
Just pretend you’re a complete idiot and can’t figure out how and why it all occurred, you know, like the Kansas administration.
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