FBI Case Produces First Verdicts; What Does This Mean For College Basketball?
While many prefer to simply be able to focus on the fact that the start of the college basketball season is approaching, with the first official games scheduled for November 6, the FBI’s investigation into fraud and corruption in the sport has captivated many. On Wednesday the first verdicts were handed down, with former adidas employees James Gatto and Merl Code Jr. and runner/aspiring agent Christian Dawkins all being found guilty on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Gatto was found guilty on three counts, two in relation to the University of Louisville and one in relation to the University of Kansas, with Code and Dawkins found guilty on two counts in relation to Louisville as well. All three are scheduled to be sentenced in March, which is right around the time that the next trials are set to begin. But with the defendants expected to appeal the verdicts, it could take more time than that to find out how much time they’ll have to serve.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
What’s most interesting about this trial is the fact that the prosecution argued that Gatto, Code and Dawkins defrauded schools by making payments that would (in theory) ensure that certain recruits would attend adidas-sponsored college basketball programs. Had the schools known that the parents and/or handlers of these prospects were being paid, in the eyes of the prosecution the prospects would not have been recruited. If you’ve followed the sport long enough that argument seems a bit far-fetched, but 12 jurors believe that to be the case.
So what happens now? Do the other defendants, whose cases are set to begin in the spring, take this week’s verdicts as a sign that it would be in their best interests to look into cutting a deal? What kind of information can the FBI get from Gatto, Code and Dawkins in exchange for leniency with regards to their sentencing? Would the three men even entertain the possibility of cooperating at this stage, along the lines of what T.J. Gassnola did during their trial? Even with the guilty verdicts, it feels as if there are still far more questions than answers, especially when it comes to how this will all impact college basketball.
Kansas, which figured prominently in the trial, has already made its first move with sophomore power forward Silvio De Sousa being held out of competition while his amateur status is under review. Per Gassnola’s testimony he made a $20,000 payment to Femmy Falmagne, De Sousa’s legal guardian, in an attempt to ensure that the 6-foot-10 forward would attend Kansas instead of Maryland. Gassnola, former director of the New England Playaz grassroots program, agreed to testify after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and stated that his payment to Falmagne was made to offset a payment made by a Maryland booster.
Whether or not this is true has been debated, but in the eyes of the NCAA Gassnola’s testimony (which was under oath, of course) could be grounds to open up investigations at multiple schools. Does that mean Maryland, which was subpoenaed in the spring in relation to Diamond Stone having been alleged to have received money from the agency formerly run by Andy Miller, could be in line to hear from the NCAA down the line? That remains to be seen, but at minimum it feels as if the case will hang over college basketball for a second consecutive season.
As for what happens in the court, opinions on Maryland’s standing within the Big Ten heading into the 2018-19 season are widespread. While some believe Mark Turgeon’s team should contend, there are others who believe that the Terps could once again find itself scrambling to make the NCAA tournament. As noted in a prior post Maryland’s non-conference schedule, which includes games against Virginia, Loyola-Chicago and Seton Hall, sets up to have more opportunities for quality wins than last season’s slate.
Whether or not Maryland can take advantage of those chances depends upon areas such as how prepared are the freshmen to have a significant impact. Jalen Smith and Aaron Wiggins are the most highly-regarded members of the class, but the versatile Eric Ayala has the ability to play either on or off the ball, and Serrel Smith could potentially be a “microwave-like” scorer off the bench. The dynamic between Ayala and Anthony Cowan Jr. is something to keep an eye on, as the former’s ability to be a playmaker on the ball could give the latter more chances to play without having the ball in his hands at all times.
Darryl Morsell and Bruno Fernando, who was a Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection, are expected to take significant steps forward. And they’ll need to as Maryland accounts for the early departure of Kevin Huerter, who was selected in the first round of June’s NBA draft. From a depth standpoint it would have been nice to see Maryland make use of at least one of the two scholarship spots that were not filled, but there’s enough talent on the roster to make a run at an NCAA tournament berth. What may also help matters are the ten practices Maryland was able to use before taking it summer trip to Europe, as that gave the players and coaches valuable on-court time to work together in a more structured setting than the usual offseason sessions that are allowed per NCAA rules.
Tuesday’s exhibition against Lynn University will give fans their first look at this group and how the pieces could potentially fit together. Is this an “NCAA tournament or bust” year for Turgeon’s Terps? That feels like a fair assessment for this group, even with the improved non-conference schedule and the Big Ten going to 20 conference games.