One of biggest names to take fall in a college hoops scandal has stern warning: 'It always happens. It always will.'

·Columnist
NCAA basketball corruption didn’t stop with Myron Piggie’s conviction. It was simply business as usual. (AP)
NCAA basketball corruption didn’t stop with Myron Piggie’s conviction. It was simply business as usual. (AP)

Myron Piggie sits in Kansas City, Mo., 1,200 miles and nearly two decades removed from the college basketball fraud trial in New York. He’s got other things to do, but couldn’t help but follow it, if only because his name kept getting dredged up, at least in local media.

In 2000, Piggie was indicted on similar crimes as a federal jury found Adidas executives Jim Gatto and Merl Code and basketball middle man Christian Dawkins guilty of Wednesday. Piggie, a prominent KC-based AAU coach at the time, was accused of paying players in violation of NCAA rules, which in turn defrauded the schools the players eventually attended.

Piggie never had the luxury of fighting the charge or making the government prove it. The feds were able to lay a firearm charge on top of the case that boxed him into a guilty plea. It’s similar to the fate of T.J. Gassnola, who operated a Massachusetts-based AAU team and served as a so-called “bag man” for Adidas. He was caught up in potential tax and other fraud charges and almost had to plea.

Gassnola, however, went a step further and agreed to testify for the defense in hopes of leniency (he has yet to be sentenced). Piggie refused such a deal, which he says would have led to probation. Rather than roll on anyone, he took 37 months in federal prison.

“I could have talked about everyone,” Piggie said. “I could have put other people away. I could have put five, six schools on probation.”

Perhaps most frustrating, though, is that by refusing to snitch, Piggie became the front person for the case – his colorful name is hard to forget. Had he flipped, he likely would have become a footnote to history, the way Gassnola will likely become as everyone chatters about Bill Self and Rick Pitino and Zion Williamson.

Piggie could have made the story about huge names at Nike and across college basketball, fingering Hall of Fame coaches that were associated with the scandal. Maybe no one would have cared about Myron Piggie.

Yet he didn’t talk. So, they do still care.

And that meant even after that debt to society was paid, he lived a life as an infamous ex-con. The 57-year-old says it has cost him work, not just in basketball but out of it. Everything has been a struggle. He said he was recently let go at a job cleaning floors due to a flare-up of publicity about the trial. All this because of basketball? He’s trying to provide for his family, which includes an 8-year-old daughter.

He isn’t looking for sympathy, he swears. It’s still crazy, though.

“You know, I was just too loyal to those guys who were around me at that time,” Piggie said. “There was no way I could have put them and their family in harm. Where I come from, the streets of Kansas City are hard. And with my name in Kansas City, it meant everyone knew what I was about.

“My family got destroyed with this, but I could never have destroyed any other family,” he continued. “But by not doing that, no one ever stepped up and said, ‘Thanks for doing that.’ Even the players I coached ran for cover because they didn’t want to be associated with a guy who went to prison for basketball.”

He is close still with a lot of those guys, who swear by him now that they are adults and not trying to retain NCAA eligibility or NBA careers. The most helpful has been Earl Watson, the longtime NBA pro and former head coach of the Phoenix Suns.

Next month Piggie will work Earl Watson’s basketball skills camp in Kansas City, a chance not just to earn a few dollars but to reconnect to his days coaching the game.

The implication that he hurt kids has always bothered him. Piggie is no angel. He dealt drugs as a younger man. He was involved in that kind of life. He scraped and fought. He’s never denied that.

He also wanted to lift young people, though. Much like the current defendants, he says he was there to help, not harm anyone. Only now, fans and even college coaches have embraced that argument, criticizing the government for even bringing the current case. He enjoyed no such defense.

“I was a street agent, I was a scumbag,” Piggie said. “It’s very frustrating. When I was a young man, I did a lot of things on the streets, but I never hurt any kids. Kids are my passion. I’ve been doing basketball tournaments since the late ’80s and ’90s in the street, outdoor tournaments.

“If you ever talk to anyone in Kansas City about me and kids, they’ll say I treated them like my own son,” he continued. “If they needed help in school, if they needed to go to the dentist, if they needed some food, I did it. Because I came up in the inner city, I was one of 12 kids.”

In his case, there was a prominent University of Kansas booster that doled out similar benefits to top area recruits, but, as Piggie notes, he was never charged with any federal crimes.

“It was OK to give thousands and thousands of dollars and a car and everything because he’s rich and I’m a street guy?” Piggie said. “What makes that right? Oh, I guess that’s helping a black kid, but when I’m doing it, I’m exploiting a black kid.”

Piggie took the fall and the game just continued on like nothing happened. He wasn’t the first. He wasn’t the last. And what a coincidence: Kansas basketball is still stuck in the middle of everything, just like always.

“It’s been 18 years,” he said.

Wednesday, the jury came back with guilty verdicts for all three defendants on trial. As Piggie knows, their names are now attached and the machine of college basketball will try to pin as much blame on them as possible. Maybe not like it was nearly two decades ago, but still.

Gatto, Code and Dawkins will be sentenced March 5. Piggie knows the feeling, and just wishes for them what he hasn’t been able to find.

“What I hope happens is these guys can go back home and go on with their life,” Piggie said. “At the end of the day, those dudes, they didn’t have any intention of doing wrong because it wasn’t wrong. Every inner-city kid needs some kind of help. And every college in America, it might not be the head coach directly, but somebody in that program is reaching out to pay these kids.

“It always happens. It always will.”

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