The federal probe into college basketball and its attendant under-the-table payments has cast a long shadow over this college basketball season. If there was any hope among the powers of the sport that things were winding down, and that the remainder of college basketball’s many rocks would remained unturned, they were essentially extinguished with the news Friday that NC State was subpoenaed as recently as January.
Yahoo’s Pat Forde, Pete Thamel, and Dan Wetzel combined for the report, which outlined a similar story to others we’ve heard with this investigation: a highly-touted prospect being steered to a school through shoe company and AAU connections. In this case, that prospect was Dennis Smith Jr., now a rookie for the Dallas Mavericks.
The grand jury, empaneled in the Southern District of New York, issued the subpoena to North Carolina State on Jan. 17, 2018. That means the investigation continued into this year and suggests it could still be ongoing, months after the Sept. 2017 arrest of 10 men on fraud charges that rocked the sport. A three-year FBI probe led to the charges related to alleged bribes and payoffs involving assistant basketball coaches, sports agents, financial advisers and shoe companies.
The subject of the grand jury’s interest is the “recruitment and enrollment of Dennis Smith Jr.”, a top high school prospect who played the 2016-17 season for the Wolfpack before being selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the ninth pick of the 2017 NBA draft. The subpoena seeks from the school “all documents” involving Smith, his father and North Carolina grassroots basketball coach Shawn Farmer from 2014 until present.
This is an interesting case because Smith is already gone, as is former coach Mark Gottfried, fired after underachieving last year despite having Smith on the roster. Gottfried was just named head coach at Cal State Northridge, and it remains to be seen whether this development will endanger his employment there. (He has to be hoping it won’t; coaching mid-major basketball in southern California sounds like a pretty sweet gig.)
Moreover, though, it’s a sign that the investigation is still very much ongoing. If you’re a fan of a school that hasn’t yet been caught up in the probe, that doesn’t mean you’re safe. That’s probably even scarier for anyone actually involved in college basketball, of course. And the subpoena also goes a step further than we’ve seen in terms of going after Adidas executives:
Of particular note, the subpoena specifically seeks any and all communication between anyone at NC State and a number of Adidas executives, representatives and coaches. That includes James Gatto and Merl Code, both of whom were indicted last fall. It also names Chris Rivers, Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola and Anthony Coleman.
Rivers is a longtime Adidas executive who worked in grassroots basketball. Gassnola operates the Adidas-sponsored New England Playaz out of Western Massachusetts. Coleman worked as an Adidas marketing representative before being hired in 2016 as an assistant coach at Arizona State. None has been charged in the case and nothing is alleged in the subpoena.
So this could lead to even more being uncovered, if Adidas really is at the heart of the investigation. The big apparel companies spend a lot on college athletics; Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour pumped $300 million into deals last year. If the investigation pivots to looking into dealings with those companies and the schools with which they’re involved, that could certainly widen the scope of things.
So, uh, enjoy March Madness!