College basketball is in an interesting place right now. And with less than a month before the 2018-2019 season starts, the majority of the buzz has focused on the fallout from last year’s FBI’s investigation instead of the usual preseason hype.
In the last week alone, the parent of a former McDonald’s All-American and a former shoe company consultant have taken the stand in a federal courtroom spilling all of college basketball’s dirty little secrets.
You would think that some coaches would err on the side of caution, but apparently, less isn’t more.
On Tuesday, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams sat in front of a room full of media members and said that he was “dumbfounded” by all the corruption that’s been recently uncovered in college basketball.
That’s right, a Hall of Fame coach that’s been in involved with the sport as an assistant and head coachfor 40 years wants us to actually believe that this is all news to him.
“It’s a massive thing that’s still going on, and I’m just dumbfounded,” he said. “I had somebody criticize me and say ‘you shouldn’t be dumbfounded.’ Well, excuse me, I have my right to have my own feelings. That world that they’re explaining out there I’m not familiar with. Period. In 30 years as a head coach I have never had anyone ask me for money. I have never asked any shoe company to recruit for me. I have never asked anyone other than the family what is most important to you.
“So that world, people act like it goes on all the time, it does not go on all the time. It is a world I’m not familiar with.”
This is the part where I show you that it’s impossible for Williams to have been unaware of the seediness of college athletics.
Just last fall, Williams’ program dodged a bullet by not getting punished by the NCAA after it was confirmed that some of his former players had been involved with taking “paper classes” that had been offered by the school for almost 20 years in which student-athletes were steered toward a “shadow curriculum” of fake classes.
The University of Kansas, the place where Williams used to coach, and North Carolina State, an in-state rival, have also been implicated in the FBI’s investigation, as Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola, a former consultant for Adidas, testified in court this week that he funneled money to players at both schools.
And if that wasn’t enough evidence, a 2012 poll from CBSSports.com ranked John Wall’s recruitment third on a list of the dirtiest recruitments of the last ten years. Allegedly, it got so bad Williams washed his hands of Wall, who ended up at Kentucky.
“Baylor hired John Wall’s AAU coach and that still wasn’t enough to get that deal done,” said one coach. “That recruitment was on another level. And remember, Roy Williams basically stopped recruiting him. Best player in the country is from North Carolina, and North Carolina didn’t really want anything to do with it. What does that tell you?”
But the best example that puts a pin into Williams’ bubble of hot air is the fact that he coached and recruited against Rick Pitino, the former Louisville coach who is at the center of the FBI’s investigation.
“I know what’s going on,” Pitino said. “Any coach that says different is full of malarkey.”
Last fall, the Louisville-Courier Journal revealed that Pitino was personally receiving 98 percent of the $160 million, 10-year-deal that Louisville has with Adidas.
But wait, it gets better.
From parents to shoe reps, to runners, everyone involved in the Brian Bowen, Jr. scandal at Louisville is on the record saying that Pitino was aware that Bowen’s father was paid $100,000 to secure his recruitment.
And after the deal was done, Pitino openly bragged about it.
“We got lucky on this one,” Pitino told Terry Meiners of News Radio 840. “I had an AAU director call me and ask me if I’d be interested in a great player. I saw him against another great player from Indiana. I said, ‘Yeah, I’d be really interested.’ They had to come in unofficially, pay for their hotel, pay for their meals. We spent zero dollars recruiting a five-star athlete who I loved when I saw him play. In my 40 years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve been.”
That’s what we call a smoking gun.
I’m not here to insinuate that Williams runs a dirty program or has broken any NCAA rules. But I am here to say that in 2018, after a year in which the federal government decided to investigate college basketball without the NCAA knowing, you can’t pay me enough money to ever believe that Williams has been completely unaware of what goes on in a sport that he’s been a part of for four decades.
When talking to the media, Williams should have taken a page out of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s book, who decided not to play dumb after it was discovered that his program was one of the few that was recruiting Bowen but refused to pay his family.
“I don’t feel vindicated because you shouldn’t be commended for doing what you’re supposed to do,” Izzo said Thursday at Big Ten media day. “We didn’t do anything any different than just about every program that I know here does it the same way. I take my hat off to all the Big Ten coaches.”
Just because you know something, it doesn’t always make you complicit to the crime. But lying about it can.