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NEW YORK – For the last half-decade Brian Bowen Sr. was a former Saginaw, Michigan, police officer and proud basketball dad with a keen understanding that his talented son was worth a lot of money to a lot of people. He certainly had no hesitation on cashing in on that.
On Thursday afternoon, Bowen Sr. served as the government’s star witness in a college basketball fraud trial, dishing dirt on payments made and perhaps promised, while under oath in the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse here in Lower Manhattan.
His son, Brian “Tugs” Bowen II was considered one of the 20-30 best players in the Class of 2017. He was not a top-five guy or guaranteed NBA star, but he was more than good enough to have a de facto agent, Christian Dawkins, by the time he was a sophomore in high school.
It was about then that Dawkins negotiated a deal for Bowen Sr. to be paid $25,000 to play a spring and summer of AAU basketball with the Adidas-sponsored Michigan Mustangs. That’s $25,000 for a season of AAU ball. The money would come from Adidas.
“Every shoe company wants good players on their team,” Bowen Sr. explained to the jury who is empaneled to decide the fate of Dawkins and Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code on wire fraud and conspiracy charges. All three have pleaded not guilty.
The Michigan Mustangs was the start. The litany of offers and deals that Bowen testified to came in rapid and matter-of-fact style, a look into the way of life in basketball’s grassroots system.
Bowen Sr. testified that Dawkins told him the University of Arizona would pay $50,000 for Tugs to play for the Wildcats with the money coming via then-assistant coach Joe Pasternack, who is now the head coach of UC Santa Barbara. Tugs likely would have signed with the Wildcats except for a logjam at his position on the Arizona roster.
Bowen Sr. testified that Dawkins told him Oklahoma State would pay $150,000, plus $8,000 for a car and “an undisclosed amount to buy a house,” for Tugs to play with the Cowboys with the money coming via then-assistant coach Lamont Evans, who was one of the coaches indicted last year in this case.
Bowen Sr. testified that Dawkins told him Texas would “help me with housing” if Tugs played for the Longhorns, with the name mentioned being then-assistant coach Mike Morrell, who is now the head coach of UNC Asheville.
Bowen Sr. testified that Dawkins told him Creighton would pay “like” $100,000 and get him “a good job, like a lucrative job” if Tugs played for the Bluejays, with the money and assistance coming via assistant coach Preston Murphy.
Bowen Sr. testified that Dawkins initially told him that Adidas would pay him between $60,000-$80,000 to play for the University of Louisville, but that offer was increased to $100,000 because a player of similar caliber, Billy Preston, was given that amount to attend Kansas. Previously in the trial, federal prosecutors said Preston was promised $90,000 to play for the Jayhawks. The feds did not say who was funding that deal.
Tugs Bowen eventually signed with Louisville, although that was in part because Brian Bowen Sr. said he believed Rick Pitino would be an excellent coach for his son, the Cardinals played in a “good league [the ACC]” and there was a spot in the starting lineup when Donovan Mitchell turned pro.
“My main concern was what the best basketball situation for my son,” Bowen Sr., testified.
Well, perhaps, but that wasn’t all of it.
“Plus, money involved,” Bowen Sr. said.
Bowen Sr. said he and Dawkins, who also grew up in Saginaw and was working as a runner at the time for NBA agent Andy Miller, had an agreement. Dawkins would provide regular payments to Bowen Sr., usually about $2,000 per month, while serving as a middle man for Bowen Sr. and deal with the offers and payments from others. Eventually when Tugs made it to the NBA, Dawkins would have his own sports agency and represent the player and deliver a financial planner to manage his NBA money.
Bowen Sr. said he never spoke directly about payments with any college coach, including Rick Pitino.
“I said nothing about it,” Bowen Sr. said of his meetings with Pitino during a whirlwind, late-May recruiting frenzy where Louisville went from off Tugs’ radar to his college destination.
Earlier in the trial, financial planner Munish Sood testified that in July of 2017, just after Tugs signed with Louisville, Sood gave Bowen Sr. a bag of cash with $19,400 in it, plus a sandwich, during a clandestine meeting in the parking lot of a Morristown, New Jersey, office building as the first installment of the Louisville promised money.
Tugs Bowen, though, would never play for the Cardinals.
In late-September 2017, just months after signing, the FBI would indict 10 men in this scandal, including Dawkins, and the Cardinals would prohibit Tugs Bowen from practicing. He eventually transferred to South Carolina but then turned pro without playing there. He is currently in the Australian Basketball League, which when brought up triggered Bowen Sr. into weeping uncontrollably from the witness stand and causing Judge Lewis Kaplan to declare a recess.
Meanwhile, after the scandal broke, Pitino was fired despite no proof yet of his knowledge of the deal, which was funded by Adidas, which sponsors the Louisville program. However, at trial Thursday, federal prosecutors stated that former Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson paid Bowen Sr. $1,300 in cash and fellow former assistant Jordan Fair paid $900 in the “recruitment of another student-athlete.”
All along, all around the Bowens was money. Bowen Sr. said Adidas was funding his son’s play for the Michigan Mustangs, with some payments coming either in cash or via Western Union from Dawkins. Evidence of the wire transfers were presented in court.
Other payments came, according to Bowen Sr., from Chris Rivers, a high-ranking executive in Adidas grassroots basketball. That included, Bowen testified, Rivers taking Bowen out to his car at an Adidas-sponsored AAU event and peeling off four grand in cash.
Bowen Sr. said he pulled Tugs off the Michigan Mustangs seeking a better situation for AAU basketball and agreed to have Tugs play for the Nike-sponsored Mean Streets, out of Chicago. He testified he was paid between $5,000-$8,000 for that deal. He testified he turned down an $18,000 offer to play for the Indiana-based Spiece Indy Heat because he thought Mean Streets would do a better job developing Tugs.
After two seasons of playing high school ball at Saginaw Arthur Hill, Bowen sent Tugs to La Lumiere School, a prep powerhouse in La Porte, Indiana. In exchange, Bowen testified he was paid $2,000 most months from then-coach Shane Heirman, who is now the director of basketball operations at DePaul. Dawkins, in a text message to Bowen that was revealed in court, referred to Heirman as “Sugar Shane.”
The government’s direct examination of Bowen Sr. is scheduled to continue when the trial resumes on Tuesday morning. Afterward, defense attorneys for Gatto, Code and Dawkins can cross examine him. More information may be revealed.
Worth noting from Thursday, is the situation involving the University of Oregon. On Wednesday, a secret recording of a conversation featuring Code and Dawkins revealed both men mentioning that Oregon had made “an astronomical offer” to sign Bowen. They didn’t want him to attend there because as a Nike school they might lose control of the prospect and not get him to sign with them when he turned pro. Instead, they worked up the deal to send Tugs to Louisville on Adidas’ dime.
When asked about Dawkins bringing him any details of an offer from Oregon, Bowen Sr. testified, “I don’t recall that.”
As for college basketball as a whole, the trial in general and Bowen Sr.’s testimony in particular is laying the sport bare. It’s clear, as it long has been to anyone who cared to pay attention, that the market for basketball talent is rich and robust from all corners of the game.
After all, if the No. 20-30 player in the America can make $25,000 as a sophomore to play a summer of AAU ball, just about anything can and is happening out there.
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