NC State subpoena shows college hoops scandal not slowing down

Emails from a Feb. 23 Yahoo Sports report revealed a complex web of corruption in college and grassroots basketball.
Emails from a Feb. 23 Yahoo Sports report revealed a complex web of corruption in college and grassroots basketball.

As March Madness tipped off this week, any hope from within college basketball that the sport’s federal corruption case might be slowing down was dashed Friday by the release of a grand jury.

The grand jury, empaneled in the Southern District of New York, issued the subpoena to North Carolina State on Jan. 17, 2018. That means the investigation continued into this year and suggests it could still be ongoing, months after the Sept. 2017 arrest of 10 men on fraud charges that rocked the sport. A three-year FBI probe led to the charges related to alleged bribes and payoffs involving assistant basketball coaches, sports agents, financial advisers and shoe companies.

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The subject of the grand jury’s interest is the “recruitment and enrollment of Dennis Smith Jr.”, a top high school prospect who played the 2016-17 season for the Wolfpack before being selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the ninth pick of the 2017 NBA draft. The subpoena seeks from the school “all documents” involving Smith, his father and North Carolina grassroots basketball coach Shawn Farmer from 2014 until present.

Smith, a five-star prospect out of Fayetteville, North Carolina, was recruited to and coached at NC State by Mark Gottfried, who was dismissed last spring. Gottfried, along with former top assistant Orlando Early, are also named in the subpoena. Gottfried was hired as head coach by Cal State Northridge earlier this week. Cal State Northridge did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Of particular note, the subpoena specifically seeks any and all communication between anyone at NC State and a number of Adidas executives, representatives and coaches. That includes James Gatto and Merl Code, both of whom were indicted last fall. It also names Chris Rivers, Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola and Anthony Coleman.

Rivers is a longtime Adidas executive who worked in grassroots basketball. Gassnola operates the Adidas-sponsored New England Playaz out of Western Massachusetts. Coleman worked as an Adidas marketing representative before being hired in 2016 as an assistant coach at Arizona State. None has been charged in the case and nothing is alleged in the subpoena.

Smith played grassroots basketball for Team Loaded North Carolina, which is sponsored by Adidas. North Carolina State has an all-sport shoe-and-apparel deal with Adidas that runs through 2022. It signed a six-year, $38.7 million extension with the shoe company in 2015.

Federal prosecutors have alleged that shoe companies have funneled top basketball prospects from its grassroots system to college programs they sponsored – most famously Adidas and the University of Louisville, which dismissed its Hall of Fame coach, Rick Pitino, after the case was made public last fall.

A Yahoo Sports story on Feb. 23 detailed FBI evidence in the case that alleged Smith Jr. received $73,500 in loans from ASM Sports, a New Jersey-based sports agency headed by veteran agent Andy Miller. The story also printed a 2016 email between Miller and associate Christian Dawkins about alleged phone conversations with Gottfried and other NC State assistants.

After publication, North Carolina State released a letter dating to 2012 saying that the school had disassociated itself from Miller for a 10-year period. Miller represented several former Wolfpack players who had come up through the Worldwide Renegades AAU program. North Carolina State investigated former Worldwide Renegades coach Desmond Eastmond, who in 2012 was banned by the NCAA from participating in sanctioned summer league events.

In 2012, the NCAA linked Gassnola and Eastmond to Andy Miller when it released an email from Miller to the two, as well as other AAU program directors. The NCAA also announced in 2012 a ban of Gassnola’s program from participating in NCAA-certified summer events due to his ties to Miller and ASM Sports.

NC State released the subpoena following an open-records request by the Raleigh News and Observer, which first broke the news. The Wolfpack were eliminated from the NCAA tournament on Thursday. The subpoena does not mention any current players or members of the coaching staff.

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