College basketball's most dangerous man to testify in corruption trial

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

NEW YORK – The most dangerous man in college basketball is expected to take the stand Thursday in the sport’s federal fraud trial.

His name is Brian Bowen Sr. He isn’t one of the defendants here – Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code, or budding sports agent Christian Dawkins – who are dealing with wire fraud charges. He isn’t one of the rich and famous coaches or well-known players whose names keep ringing out at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan federal courthouse.

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He’s just a guy from Saginaw, Michigan, the father of Brian Bowen Jr. (also known as “Tuggs”), who was the center of a wild recruiting process that includes at least eight schools, two late flips, a six-figure deal, a bag of cash with $19,400 being handed out in a New Jersey parking lot, the firing of a Hall of Fame coach and essentially this entire trial.

And now Brian Bowen Sr. gets his say, and what that entails could have significant ramifications for programs coast to coast.

The prosecution could call Bowen as early as Thursday. If not, next week. He’s already at the center of the trial after agreeing to have Adidas pay him $100,000 for Tuggs to attend the University of Louisville, which the sneaker company sponsors. The deal was orchestrated by Gatto, Code and Dawkins, a longtime family friend from Saginaw.

In this file photo, a player runs across the NCAA logo during practice in Pittsburgh before an NCAA tournament game. What some call the underbelly of college basketball recruiting is on display at a criminal trial starting in New York. (AP)
In this file photo, a player runs across the NCAA logo during practice in Pittsburgh before an NCAA tournament game. What some call the underbelly of college basketball recruiting is on display at a criminal trial starting in New York. (AP)

It included financial planner Munish Sood, who worked with Dawkins and Gatto, handing the bag of money to Bowen Sr. a little over a year ago when the two met outside a nondescript office building in Morristown, New Jersey. Sood even brought Bowen Sr. a sandwich to help assure he would eventually handle Tuggs’ NBA money.

Since then, nothing has gone well. The FBI busted the operation. Gatto, Code and Dawkins were indicted. Louisville fired coach Rick Pitino. Tuggs was declared ineligible at Louisville, transferred to South Carolina, never became eligible and is now playing pro ball in Australia.

Bowen Sr. could have plenty to say, under oath from the witness stand. If his son’s erratic recruitment is any indicator, this is clearly a man who had no concern for NCAA rules, which should make the coaches who are supposed to care very nervous. Whatever code of silence supposedly exists won’t extend to a witness stand in Lower Manhattan.

Start mostly with the University of Oregon, which Dawkins and Code thought was going to land Tuggs, mostly because the school had made “an astronomical offer,” Code said on a wiretap that was played in court Wednesday.

How much is astronomical? Code didn’t say. It did cause them to secure the $100,000 deal to attend Louisville, though.

Details are scare, for now. Was the offer from Oregon itself? Or was it from Nike, which sponsors the Ducks? Did Oregon coach Dana Altman know anything about it? Any assistant coaches? Or was it just a bluff, a negotiating ploy to get Adidas to pony up.

Testimony could answer all of that. Or raise other questions.

Then there is the Louisville deal. Pitino was fired but he still maintains he had no knowledge of how the Cards landed Tuggs at the last moment. He called getting the 6-foot-7, five-star prospect one of the “luckiest” recruiting victories of his career.

Can Bowen Sr. speak to what Pitino did or didn’t know? We’ll see.

In this May 17, 2018, file photo, standout college basketball recruit Brian Bowen participates in the NBA draft basketball combine in Chicago. (AP)
In this May 17, 2018, file photo, standout college basketball recruit Brian Bowen participates in the NBA draft basketball combine in Chicago. (AP)

Then there are the other schools. For most of Tuggs’ senior year, his top five were Arizona, Michigan State, Creighton, North Carolina State and Texas. What did the recruiting processes at each of those schools entail? DePaul was also involved; it hired his high school coach. Anything else to that?

The Bowens have been NCAA roadkill since the scandal broke. They likely dreamed of having Tuggs put together a big season or two under Pitino and follow the same route to the NBA as the player he was replacing on the Cardinals roster, Donovan Mitchell.

Instead, the family has been touched by scandal and their son is on the other side of the world.

Even in this trial Bowen Sr. has been mocked. During wiretap conversations, Dawkins implied he was an idiot and slammed him when Bowen Sr. was pushing for his first $25,000 payment as part of the deal, money Dawkins et al. needed to scrounge up quick.

“Brian’s dad is like a crackhead right now,” Dawkins said on tape. “There’s no way I can tell him he’s got to wait two weeks for their [expletive].”

Dawkins also called Tuggs Bowen a “[expletive] mute” for being so quiet, although he also called him “a great kid” and “his son.” Dawkins also liked Tuggs’ mother, calling her “hot” and “gorgeous.”

How any of that effects what Brian Bowen Sr. might say is unknown. He really doesn’t have much choice about picking his words. He isn’t sitting down for a media interview or even to speak with an NCAA investigator.

This will be under oath, in a witness box, in the middle of a federal courtroom. The truth isn’t just expected; it’s demanded, via questions from one prosecutor and three separate defense attorney cross examinations.

If Brian Bowen Sr. knows the dirt, he’s going to get his chance to spread it.

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