NEW YORK — Day 1 of the college basketball bribery trial began Monday at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse, and the Arizona Wildcats are already figuring into the proceedings.
Federal prosecutors listed UA basketball coach Sean Miller, former assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson and Deandre Ayton, the former Arizona star who was the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft this year, as part of a who’s-who of basketball figures that the jury is likely to hear about in the upcoming weeks.
Other names that may come up include Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers, Dennis Smith Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks, Markelle Fultz of the Philadelphia 76ers, Duke freshman sensation Zion Williamson, Indiana freshman star Romeo Langford, North Carolina freshman Nassir Little and former Louisville wing Brian Bowen, who was at the center of an alleged pay-for-play scandal that led to the firing of former Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
Miller and Pitino aren’t the only prominent head coaches who could be mentioned, prosecutors said. Kansas’ Bill Self, Miami’s Jim Larranaga and LSU’s Will Wade could also figure into what’s likely to be a three-to-four-week trial.
Jury selection began Monday in the case known as “U.S. v. Gatto et al.” before Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Former Adidas executive Jim Gatto, former Adidas consultant Merl Code and aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins are charged with wire fraud conspiracy related to alleged payments to the families of six student-athletes in connection with those players’ decisions to attend four universities: Louisville, Miami, Kansas and North Carolina State. All four schools are sponsored by Adidas. Kaplan referred to the four schools as “victim universities,” because the defendants allegedly conspired to make the players ineligible by paying them or their families.
“These young people are supposed to be amateurs,” Kaplan told the court as jury selection began. “They are not supposed to be paid to pick one school over another. The allegation is the defendants were paying, or causing to be paid, players to pick one school instead of another.”
Arizona, a Nike school, figures into the case tangentially. According to a federal complaint, Code told Gatto that Arizona was offering $150,000 to a player — believed to be Little, now at North Carolina — and that Adidas needed to match the offer in order to keep the player from joining the Wildcats.
Gatto’s attorney, Michael Schachter, told the court Monday that Miami was asked to match "a similar offer … of $150,000 by the University of Arizona Nike school that's in the indictment."
He did not elaborate, but may do so in coming days.
Miami’s coaches have repeatedly contended that they were unaware of a pay-for-play scheme involving Little. ESPN reported that attorneys involved in the case believe the Hurricanes are probably in the clear. The Star asked Miller on Monday about being included in the trial; he referred the reporter to a statement he issued during the 2017-18 basketball season.
Federal agents say Dawkins, along with financial planner Munish Sood, bribed Richardson in exchange for the coach steering Arizona players to their respective businesses as pros. Richardson sought and received money to bribe a recruit, believed to be point guard Jahvon Quinerly, to commit to the UA, the complaint states. Richardson was arrested in September 2017 and fired shortly thereafter.
Sood took a plea deal last month.
Roughly 50 potential jurors were vetted on Monday, and 18 will ultimately be chosen. Kaplan asked for potential conflicts of interest from the jury pool, a request that brought several humorous moments. One man said he was a season ticket-holder for UConn, and another man then said he was a diehard Syracuse fan.
“Syracuse University,” he said for emphasis, “and not the University of Connecticut.”
(Neither of those schools has been implicated in the bribery scandal.)
Richardson and three other assistant coaches are scheduled to go on trial in April. The four coaches were arrested along with Gatto, Code and Dawkins a year ago.
“For the 10 charged men, the madness of college basketball went well beyond the Big Dance in March,” Joon H. Kim, acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said a year ago at a news conference.
“Month after month, the defendants exploited the hoop dreams of student-athletes around the country, allegedly treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes.”