Arizona coach Sean Miller on a witness stand? LSU coach Will Wade testifying in federal court, under oath?
Defense attorneys interested in revealing the scope and depth of college basketball’s corruption – not playing nice and polite – in charge of the line of questioning?
College basketball’s federal fraud case has hung over the sport for going on two seasons now, a cloud that won’t go away.
In April, it might start producing its biggest deluge of rain, bad news and, most consequentially, the truth about a sport that’s relied on blind fan passion, apologetic media and administrators more interested in pleasing donors than following rules, at least when it comes to the behavior of millionaire coaches.
The players, of course, tend not to get much benefit of the doubt.
Multiple sources told Yahoo Sports that preliminary notifications have been sent to representatives of Miller and Wade, stating that each will be subpoenaed to testify in the scandal’s second trial, which is scheduled for April 22 in New York. A preliminary notification is a courtesy that seeks guidance on the easiest way to serve papers to the named individual.
In terms of news value, it’s a game-changer for the case, which thus far has yielded plenty of juicy details and caused the firing of Rick Pitino – plus four assistants charged by prosecutors – but has still left much to be explored.
Nearly 18 months after the Southern District of New York boldly claimed to have the sport’s “playbook” and promised mayhem following a three-year FBI investigation, the results have been mixed. There have been convictions and plea deals reached, but the most prominent names (other than Pitino) and programs have continued, business as usual.
This might change that, particularly if wiretapped conversations featuring Miller, Wade and others are played in open court and then the details and circumstances are explored via direct questioning.
Sources say additional prominent head coaches may also be subpoenaed to testify.
Miller has been embattled from the start, accused on recorded conversations and charging documents of having his program in the middle of bidding wars for numerous top players, including Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
Arizona has stuck by him thus far. Is it willing to continue that and risk what might be revealed from a witness stand?
The same goes for Wade, who has quickly built up LSU by luring recruits from non-traditional locations for the Tigers (star players hail from Connecticut and New Jersey). A tape of him discussing the recruitment of top-10 2019 recruit Balsa Koprivica was played at the first trial in October.
When asked by basketball middleman Christian Dawkins if he wanted Balsa, Wade stated, “Wait, I’ve got to shut the door … I can get you what you need but it’s got to work.”
Wade responded that he’d “never, ever done business of any kind with Christian Dawkins” – a very specific denial. The definition of “business” would likely be explored here.
While Miller and Wade would be interesting, these are just two coaches working at two schools. What additional details might be exposed however about certain recruitments – in the case of Ayton, for example, nearly every prominent program in the country was involved. At the first trial, so-called Adidas bag man T.J. Gassnola testified he dropped $15,000 on an associate of Ayton’s and tried to secure housing and a job in Lawrence for Ayton’s mother, just to try to get Kansas involved. Gassnola said that barely moved the needle for the Jayhawks. So what did work?
The first trial ended in convictions for Dawkins and Adidas executives Merl Code and Jim Gatto. They are set to be sentenced next month. Both Dawkins and Code will also stand trial on additional charges in April, and with likely prison time already ahead of them, they have little to lose. Both have promised very aggressive defenses.
Dawkins, in particular, has repeatedly vowed he will never accept a plea deal from prosecutors.
The first trial was led by Gatto’s attorneys at Willkie Farr and Gallagher, a prestigious white-shoe firm in Manhattan. They focused on the legal theory that universities weren’t actually defrauded in the case. It failed.
The second trial has the potential for more of a bare-knuckle brawl. While much was revealed, particularly during the testimonies of Gassnola and Brian Bowen, the father of top 2018 recruit Brian “Tugs” Bowen, this could be much more when it comes to recruiting dirt.
“My obligation here is to defend my client,” Dawkins’ attorney Steve Haney told Yahoo Sports. “Not protect coaches who violated NCAA rules.”
Attempting to haul big-name coaches onto a Manhattan witness stand would certainly qualify as an aggressive defense. The mere concept of major head coaches under oath discussing their knowledge of recruiting wars is unprecedented.
This case might get very interesting, or nerve-racking, depending on your perspective.
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