SAN FRANCISCO — Less than a week after Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak and his Pac-12 peers rolled out the ball for preseason practices, the news alerts started popping up.
Testimony from the ongoing federal trial involving college basketball included, among other things, allegations from Adidas reps that Oregon offered an “astronomical amount” to five-star forward Brian Bowen, and that the shoe company felt they needed to match an alleged $150,000 offer from Arizona to help Miami land five-star Nassir Little.
This week, Adidas shoe consultant and fixer T.J. Gassnola said he gave a total of $90,000 to one five-star player. Some $40,000 to another.
And a sum of $15,000 to a handler of former UA star Deandre Ayton. Ayton, the No. 1 pick of the Phoenix Suns, told Phoenix’s 12News on Friday that he was “so clueless on that; I don’t know why my name is in that.”
There were other allegations, too. It went on and on and on. And it will keep going on when the trial resumes Monday, too.
But while Krystkowiak said it has been “worth taking a peek” at all the news from time to time, he never really raised an eyebrow.
He had heard these sorts of stories before. They were just underground.
“I don’t think it’s any big secret,” Krystkowiak said at Thursday’s Pac-12 media day. “It’s not blowing anybody away. It’s public for the first time. I think there’s a lot of understanding of things that have been happening for a long time.”
Krystkowiak, of course, is the same coach who said a year ago that he and his staff “didn’t lose any sleep” over the ongoing investigation. He and Colorado’s Tad Boyle said they backed off recruits if they sensed they or their handlers were looking for an extra benefit.
Since then, five Pac-12 schools — including Utah — have been implicated one way or another in the federal investigation. USC assistant Tony Bland and Arizona assistant Book Richardson were arrested and later fired, while Washington and Utah were peripherally tied in by another news report. Yahoo Sports reported in February that Fultz received $10,000 from an agency and that an associate of Utah star Kyle Kuzma received $9,500.
The “astronomical” allegation also ensnared Oregon, though Bowen’s father later testified he could not recall such an offer.
Commissioner Larry Scott he doesn’t believe the Pac-12 has a systemic problem with compliance, but said the conference and its schools are treating the allegations coming out of the trial very seriously.
“Like any process like this, there are allegations, and there’s a process to prove or disprove them,” Scott said. “So I think we’ll certainly hold any judgment until the process goes through, and we see what comes of it.
“Each of our schools have made statements about their position. We’ve got leadership at our universities. They take the integrity of the competition, the behavior of their leadership and the coaches very seriously, and I think at this stage we’re monitoring very carefully and waiting for the process to play out, and we’ll see what the truth is that emerges.”
Utah issued a statement last week that said it “takes these allegations very seriously” after financial advisor Munish Sood testified that he worked with another sports agency to provide money to Kuzma’s associate in the hopes of developing a relationship.
But the Utes were not directly named in that allegation, and Krystkowiak dismissed a question about what the school was doing in response as a “silly question.”
Several other coaches at the Pac-12 media day also had tense exchanges.
Arizona’s Sean Miller answered eight questions about the investigation and trial by deferring to his March statement that he never knowingly broke an NCAA rule. He also would not comment on the possibility that the Wildcats’ 2017-18 wins and postseason revenues could be vacated if the NCAA finds Ayton was ineligible because he received an extra benefit — even if UA had nothing to do with it.
Oregon coach Dana Altman, meanwhile, expressed confidence in his assistants and the school’s compliance department. Of Bowen Sr.’s testimony that he didn’t know of an astronomical Oregon offer, Altman said he had no reaction because “I knew it wasn’t true.”
Bowen Sr. also testified that he didn’t recall an alleged $3,000 payment from Oregon assistant Tony Stubblefield.
“Well, I have a lot of confidence in my staff and in Tony, so I wasn’t surprised,” Altman said of Bowen Sr.’s testimony. “Tony has done a great job for me, and like I said, I’ve got complete confidence in my staff.”
Altman said his compliance office hadn’t discussed with him the allegation involving Stubblefield, but that it did review his program in September 2017 and October 2017, and again last week.
The way USC coach Andy Enfield described it, the Trojans have a particularly stiff hammer in their compliance office.
USC suspended standout guard De’Anthony Melton all of last season after the school reviewed an allegation in the federal complaint that a family friend received a $5,000 payment from an agent.
“We have more compliance people at USC than probably any school in the country, and they’re great,” Enfield said. “They travel with us, and we have a tremendous working relationship with them. It’s been like that since I’ve been at USC, and this is our sixth season.”
USC has not been mentioned in the current trial involving a former Adidas rep, a former Adidas executive and would-be agent Christian Dawkins, and Enfield says “I really don’t follow it as closely as you might think.”
But it’s also unavoidable, hovering overhead, even as practices continue.
“I have assistants who tell me what’s being written, and I don’t have quite enough time to follow everything,” Altman said. “I think everybody is following it a little bit, yeah.”
- Arizona has agreed to a two-year series with Illinois that begins next Nov. 10 at McKale Center and concludes at Illinois’ State Farm Center on Dec. 12, 2020. Ryan Reynolds, UA’s operations director, said Illinois is scheduled to play Grand Canyon on Nov. 8 and asked to play UA at McKale Center on the same trip. The home-and-home evolved from there.
- The Wildcats announced that tickets for Sunday’s Red-Blue Game have sold out. UA’s annual preseason celebration has sold out for eight straight seasons, sometimes within days. Tickets first went on sale Aug. 18.
- As usual, the weekend around the Red-Blue Game is critical for Arizona’s recruiting efforts. The Wildcats are hosting committed five-star guards Nico Mannion and Josh Green, and are scheduled to host five-star forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and four-star forward Zeke Nnaji.