Black market diaries: Emails in hoops corruption case detail inner workings of sport's underbelly
The email from Christian Dawkins to his boss, ASM Sports agency founder and president Andy Miller, came at 10:47 p.m. ET on July 25 of 2016. Dawkins, a young associate at ASM known for his connections and aggressiveness, sent an email nearly every day to his bosses, including Miller, with recaps of his conversations that day and a plan for the following one.
Among the federal documents obtained in discovery over the years-long basketball corruption investigation is nearly 25 emails between Dawkins and Miller over two months in 2016. They double as a diary of the basketball black market. The emails, viewed this week by Yahoo Sports, illustrate how Dawkins attempted to get business done with some of the country’s most prestigious programs, including Arizona, Michigan State and Indiana.
On just one day – July 25 of 2016 – Dawkins’ communications canvassed nearly every level of the basketball world, as he spoke with or planned to touch base with nearly 40 individuals from grassroots to the NBA in the emails.
According to the documents, he checked in with six ASM clients, including Jarell Martin, now with the Memphis Grizzlies, who “is not moving into the house he intended because they wouldn’t accept his snakes.” He spoke with or planned meetings with a bevy of college coaches, ranging from the obscure – Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy (“He thinks he has an NBA guy”) – to three of the men eventually arrested in the sweeping federal probe of the underbelly of basketball: Oklahoma State assistant coach Lamont Evans, USC assistant coach Tony Bland and sneaker executive Merl Code.
There are basketball figures from every level in the documents: Meetings with Nick Stapleton (“Trainer of Collin Sexton, the best rising Sr. PG in America”), Johnnie Parker (“handler of Chimezie Metu”) and financial maven Rudy Cline-Thomas (“He has a close relationship with Festus Ezeli, who may be firing [agent Bill] Duffy”).
Dawkins, 24, provides a roadmap for the quid-pro-quo relationship between the agent world and college coaches. He dangles a high school prospect – five-star recruit Brian Bowen – as potential trade bait for schools to steer their best players to ASM Sports. On the same July day, Dawkins wrote to Miller that he connected with two Big Ten assistants, Dwayne Stephens of Michigan State and Chuck Martin, formerly of Indiana.
The email recounts the interactions from Dawkins’ perspective:
“Dwayne Stephens – Trying to close the deal on Brian Bowen for Michigan State. Trying to do a trade deal for (Spartans) Gary Harris, Miles Bridges, etc”
“Chuck Martin – Trying to close the deal on Brian Bowen for Indiana. I told him if we can work together and if he can push for us to get (Hoosiers) Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby two projected first rounders from IU this year we can work something out.”
Indiana athletic department spokesman J.D. Campbell, reached in the middle of Indiana’s game on Friday night, said, “This is the first that we’ve heard anything about this.” Martin declined comment when reached by Yahoo Sports, and Michigan State pointed to its comment from earlier Friday.
Day after day, email after email, a fascinating portrait of how the basketball underworld really works at every level is painted in detail. What’s striking is the openness of the emails, which the federal government seized in a raid of Miller’s office on Sept. 26. (Ten men, including Dawkins and four college assistant coaches, were arrested that morning in a sweeping federal probe.)
The same topics that have shaken the college basketball world and contributed to Dawkins’ federal felony charges for wire fraud and bribery are talked about like mundane water cooler conversation. The emails weren’t secret, as plenty are copied all the way up the food chain. They were sent to another ASM agent, Andrew Vye, then-ASM office manager Jessica Ruffin and Gabriel Ovejas, a finance senior manager with YouFirst Sports, the global agency that owns ASM.
With players leveraged as assets, coaches jockeying for recruits and assorted characters at every level looking for a piece of the billion-dollar market, the emails read like a how-to guide for navigating the basketball underworld.
“He will help us get all the Arizona players so put his feet to the fire.”
Before working for Andy Miller as a recruiter, a position known as a runner in the basketball world, Christian Dawkins learned to navigate all the levels of basketball by coaching AAU. Dawkins realized quickly the power of controlling a player’s recruitment. Dawkins ran the recruitment of Bowen, the decorated high school recruit who turned up in one of the U.S. Attorney’s criminal complaints as being allegedly sold to Louisville, via Adidas, for a six-figure payment. (That revelation led to the firing of Louisville coach Rick Pitino.)
The emails show what a valuable commodity a star player can be in the recruiting world. Dawkins, 24, who has no formal college education and was in his early 20s at the time, slowly accumulated power with the Arizona staff to the point where he’s heard on federal wiretaps saying he can attend Arizona practices “like I’m on the team.”
The emails illustrate how Dawkins attempted to manipulate a powerful collegiate program like Arizona and how the client recruitment dance plays out in the recruiting world.
On 9:23 a.m. on Aug. 15, Dawkins sent an email that specifically points out to Vye, the ASM agent, that Arizona assistant coach Joe Pasternack is interested in recruiting Bowen. “Now that they need something from us,” Dawkins writes, referencing Bowen, “they’re all apologetic.” (He was referencing Arizona coach Sean Miller being “all upset” with ASM over a recruiting issue with a player’s parent.)
Dawkins writes that Pasternack told him “he wasn’t a Duffy guy or Octagon guy,” meaning he doesn’t send players to NBA agent Bill Duffy or the Octagon agency. In reference to Lauri Markkanen, who ended up as the No. 7 pick in the 2017 draft, Dawkins wrote: “I asked him straight up is the kid with Alex Len’s agent he said no, so if he is Joe is a liar. I would use this window where they need us to our advantage.”
Dawkins concludes that section of the email with a plan: “Now I can’t promise that this kid that they want [Bowen] is going to Arizona, but Joe told me verbatim he will help us get all the Arizona players so put his feet to the fire.”
There are more Arizona mentions in Dawkins’ emails on Aug. 18 in reference to former Wildcats assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson.
Dawkins writes to Andy Miller and others: “coach book from Arizona called me and basically told me he wants me to take [current Arizona guard] rawle alkins. He said he is picking the agent, period….What’s your position on the situation?”
On Aug. 20, Dawkins follows up on Alkins: “Book at Arizona has the juice with the situation, they’re going to listen to him. Nobody else is involved besides book, the kid and Rodney (the cousin). The mom has say but I think she will depend on Rodney. He can get stuff done.” (Richardson was fired last month after his arrest in the federal probe. He faces trial in April of 2019. Pasternack is now the head coach at UC Santa Barbara, and the school did not return a call for comment.) Arizona responded to a Yahoo Sports request for comment by referring back to its initial response regarding the FBI’s basketball investigation.
On Aug. 29 of 2016, Dawkins writes in an email with the subject line “Morning Update” that former NBA coach and current Los Angeles Clippers executive Lawrence Frank is going to connect Pasternack with Andy Miller that week. (Andy Miller and Frank are childhood friends from New Jersey.) Dawkins writes that Pasternack recruited Markkanen: “He is saying that hes [sic] not in place with [NBA agent Dan] Fegan,” Dawkins wrote of Pasternack. “Vye, if you have to make a call to these guys the kid that they want from me is Brian Bowen.” He goes on to encourage Vye, a veteran ASM agent, to build a relationship with Markkanen’s father. “Arizona will do pretty much whatever we ask of them right now, until my kid decides on a school.”
“I met with Etop (Udo-Ema) and his partner…they have been doing business with excel (sports management), but they are looking for new partners. Their program, Compton magic, is pretty big time and Adidas top program right now.”
When Dawkins wasn’t spending his time trying to broker college deals, he was babysitting NBA clients and cultivating relationships with teenage players. In the emails, there were concerns about NBA rookie Brice Johnson: “I do think Brice posting every 15 minutes on social media about his girlfriend doesn’t help him with the team.” And there was family drama surrounding professional client K.J. McDaniels: “The mom got into a fight with the kids dad and hit him in head with a broom until it broke. She got arrested earlier today. She should be out tomo [sic].”
While on the summer basketball circuit, Dawkins kept his bosses updated on his efforts to recruit the next generation of potential stars. That’s why he reached out to Udo-Ema, a powerbroker who influences much of the talent on the Adidas circuit in Southern California. In the emails, Dawkins is focused on the incoming freshmen in 2016-17 who projected as one-and-done college players. That included eventual No. 1 NBA draft pick, Markelle Fultz, who played at Washington.
“Markelle fultz meeting was good,” Dawkins wrote to his supervisors on Aug. 20, 2016. “Kid, mom and Keith Williams [Fultz’s workout coach and advisor] came and met with Matt Mirchin from under armour and Ron Johnson. … Keith said I should try to be in Seattle as much as possible with the kid.” (The previous month in an email, Dawkins noted that Fultz projected as the No. 1 pick and was contemplating playing professionally overseas. “What would be the marketplace this late?” Dawkins wrote in an email.)
In the same email, Dawkins summarized a meeting with Apples Jones, the mother of Kansas’ Josh Jackson and a self-styled AAU entrepreneur: “His situation is going to get done at the very end. UA is giving her 10k a month and she’s also getting paid by adidas now — so she’s plenty taken care of. She actually works all of under armours events now and talks to the parents as a “advisor”. I do think she’s honest when she says she has only spoken with (agent) Bj Armstrong at this point. After further dialog I don’t think Duffy will be in there — but you can’t count him out ever. We will have to discuss how we will handle the moms boyfriend moving forward.” (A Kansas official pointed to their statement earlier Friday).
Jones started her own AAU program, funded by Under Armour, when Jackson was in high school. It’s unclear why she also allegedly got paid by Adidas. As for taking care of “moms boyfriend,” an item in Dawkins’ expense report from two months earlier shows an expenditure of $367.01 at a Candlewood Suites with the description, “Room for Josh Jackson stepdad.” As Yahoo Sports reported earlier Friday, Dawkins’ expense reports also list two cash advances to Jones totaling $2,700. (Jones denied taking anything from Miller or Dawkins to ESPN on Friday afternoon).
The incoming freshman in 2016 who appeared of primary interest to Dawkins was Michigan State’s Miles Bridges. The two hail from nearby cities — Dawkins from Saginaw, Michigan, and Bridges from Flint — and documents indicate that Dawkins spent considerable time in contact with the Bridges family and with Spartans assistant coach Dwayne Stephens.
In May 2016, Dawkins’ expense reports list a dinner with Bridges’ parents, and also a $400 ATM withdrawal labeled as “Miles Bridges mom advance.” In the two months of Dawkins’ emails viewed by Yahoo Sports, Dawkins frequently listed Cynthia Bridges as someone he planned to contact. And a July 27 email said he had a “late night” meeting arranged with Miles Bridges.
The next day, July 28, a Dawkins email summarizing the Nike Skills Academy in California reviewed the performance of four college players he labeled “our guys.” Bridges was among them, as were Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame, Xavier’s Edmond Sumner and Iowa State’s Monte Morris. Blossomgame, Sumner and Morris received impermissible benefits from Dawkins, according to his expense reports.
As it would turn out, ASM Sports did sign Blossomgame and Sumner when they officially turned pro. But later on July 28, Dawkins was already thinking ahead. He planned to call or text Steve Reed, who works in the financial industry. As always, he was searching for the next deal. Dawkins wrote: “Have to start getting on advances for our clients.”