Exclusive: Wiretap reveals LSU coach Will Wade discussed recruiting 'offer' with hoops scandal middleman

A 2017 phone conversation intercepted by the FBI between LSU coach Will Wade and basketball middleman Christian Dawkins features Wade speaking freely about a “strong-ass offer” he made in the recruitment of a prospect, Yahoo Sports has learned.

On part of the call, Wade expresses frustration that a third party affiliated with the recruitment had yet to accept Wade’s “offer.” Instead, a verbal commitment to LSU was being delayed because Wade theorized he hadn’t given the third party a big “enough piece of the pie in the deal” and instead “tilted” the offer toward the player and his mother.

“I was thinking last night on this Smart thing,” Wade said. “I’ll be honest with you, I’m [expletive] tired of dealing with the thing. Like I’m just [expletive] sick of dealing with the [expletive]. Like, this should not be that [expletive] complicated.”

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There is no elaboration on what the “Smart thing” is. Javonte Smart is currently a freshman guard at LSU and formerly a top-50 recruit from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Dawkins is known to be on FBI wiretaps during the late spring and summer of 2017. ESPN, citing court records, previously reported that Dawkins had “at least three calls with a cellphone number belonging to LSU coach Will Wade, each of which occurred between June 19, 2017, and June 30, 2017.” Smart announced his commitment to LSU via Twitter on June 30, 2017.

“Dude,” Wade continued to Dawkins, referring to the third party involved in the recruitment, “I went to him with a [expletive] strong-ass offer about a month ago. [Expletive] strong.

“The problem was, I know why he didn’t take it now, it was [expletive] tilted toward the family a little bit,” Wade continued. “It was tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid. Like it was tilted towards that. Now I know for a fact he didn’t explain everything to the mom. I know now, he didn’t get enough of the piece of the pie in the deal.”

Dawkins responded by saying, “Hmmmm.”

“It was a [expletive] hell of a [expletive] offer,” Wade continued. “Hell of an offer.”

“OK,” Dawkins said.

“Especially for a kid who is going to be a two- or three-year kid,” Wade said.

Smart, a guard who is averaging 11.4 points a game for LSU this season, was not considered a one-and-done NBA prospect when he committed to the Tigers.

Will Wade’s LSU Tigers are 25-5 and ranked in the AP top 10.  (Getty)
Will Wade’s LSU Tigers are 25-5 and ranked in the AP top 10.  (Getty)

The tape does not reference any specifics about the “offer,” if the particulars of the “offer” violated NCAA rules, if the player and/or his mother ever knew of the “offer” or if anyone accepted whatever the “offer” was.

It does not appear from this part of the call that Dawkins had any knowledge of what Wade is describing.

Dawkins declined comment Thursday through his attorney, Steve Haney. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva also declined comment Thursday to Yahoo Sports. Calls and text messages to Wade and Melinda Smart, mother of Javonte Smart, were not immediately returned.

The tape does suggest the FBI possesses additional evidence and phone conversations that could be entered into evidence in the second trial, which is slated to begin April 22 in New York.

It also speaks to the line of aggressive questioning Wade may face if he testifies at that trial – namely explaining, under oath, the specifics in recruiting conversations such as the above.

Defense attorneys are in the process of formally filing subpoenas for both Wade and Arizona coach Sean Miller to testify for the defense at the second trial. Haney said he might try to bring in other coaches to the witness stand.

“As many as I can get in the courtroom,” Haney said. “… We are going to pull back the curtains.”

The defense will try to show through wiretapped phone calls and direct testimony from college coaches that Dawkins and Merl Code, an Adidas consultant, were not attempting to bribe the coaches to gain an inside track on signing their NBA-bound talent. “The second trial will be an argument over the facts of the government’s case, which we dispute,” Haney said on Tuesday. Namely, if Dawkins and Code were attempting to bribe coaches, why wouldn’t the subject have come up on wiretap when they were discussing recruits?

Dawkins, a basketball middleman with deep connections to grassroots hoops, and Code are facing federal bribery charges in that trial. Three co-defendants who worked as assistant college coaches, Tony Bland of USC, Emanuel “Book” Richardson of Arizona and Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State, have all reached plea agreements in the case.

Dawkins, Code and Adidas executive James Gatto were found guilty during the scandal’s first trial in October at the Moynihan Federal Courthouse in New York. On Tuesday, Gatto was sentenced to nine months in prison, and Dawkins and Code each received six-month sentences.

A call between Dawkins and Wade also emerged during the first trial. The two were discussing 2019 recruit Balsa Koprivica, who eventually committed to Florida State.

“So you said to me … there was a 2019 kid I wanted to recruit, they can get him to LSU, you would have funded,” Dawkins said to Wade. “Would you want Balsa?”

“Oh, the big kid?” Wade said.

Dawkins confirmed he was talking about the 7-foot-1 Koprivica.

“OK, but there is other [expletive] involved in it,” Wade said. “I have got to shut my door …”

After a brief delay, Wade said, “I can get you what you need, but it’s got to work.”

At the trial, Gatto’s defense attorney, Casey Donnelly, said the inference was about “money.” On June 21, 2017, during the timeframe of the calls, Koprivica announced on Twitter he had received a scholarship offer from LSU.

Wade never denied speaking with Dawkins but told reporters last fall that, “I have never, ever, done any business of any kind with Christian Dawkins.”

At the time, Alleva said in a statement that the exchange between Dawkins and Wade was a “snippet of a conversation in an active federal case.” He added that LSU was “ready, as always, to work with the NCAA on this.”

Wade, 36, took over at LSU in 2017. He previously coached VCU and Chattanooga. LSU’s 2018 recruiting class ranked as high as No. 3 in the country. The Tigers are 25-5, ranked No. 10 in the country and need only to defeat last-place Vanderbilt on Saturday to win their first SEC regular-season title since 2009.

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