NEW YORK — Former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola detailed payments he made to the families or friends of Brian Bowen, Dennis Smith Jr., Deandre Ayton, Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa in his testimony Thursday.
Gassnola was questioned by both government and defense attorneys in the federal wire fraud case against Adidas executive James Gatto, Adidas consultant Merl Code Jr. and runner Christian Dawkins. The defense’s cross-examination of Gassnola will continue Monday.
Gassnola described how Adidas paid $100,000 to the father of Brian Bowen, a former five-star prospect who signed to play at Louisville. He testified that Dawkins called Gassnola to inform him Bowen’s family was looking for money to go to Louisville, and then found out Dawkins had already called Code in an attempt to complete the agreement.
In a text message the night Bowen committed to Louisville, Gassnola said to Code: “By the way this Bowen thing looks good for us. Perception wise. I think.”
Gassnola testified he never talked to anyone on the Louisville staff regarding the deal.
The jury was shown a text message conversation between Gassnola and former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino on June 3, when Bowen announced his commitment, where Gassnola said “HOFer. Hope your [sic] in a good place. Bowen will help. Talk soon.” Pitino responded with a thumbs-up emoji.
Gassnola mentioned in a telephone conversation between him and Dawkins that former Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson was one of the people who knew about the deal, to which Dawkins responded, “Kenny didn’t even know.”
Gassnola testified he made two payments to people close to Smith, a former five-star recruit who spent one-and-a-half seasons at NC State before being a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA draft. The first payment, of an unspecified amount, came during Smith’s junior year of high school after Andy Miller, who runs the ASM Sports agency, informed Gassnola that Smith wanted to leave the Adidas grassroots circuit.
The second payment came in the fall of 2015, after then-NC State assistant coach Orlando Early reached out to Gassnola to say there were issues surrounding Smith, who had committed earlier in the fall.
“He was having issues with keeping that situation together,” Gassnola told the jury.
Gassnola testified he gave $40,000 in cash to Early in November 2015. Early told Gassnola he was going to give the money to Shawn Farmer, Smith’s trainer. Gassnola was reimbursed by Adidas.
While Gassnola testified the money for Smith came on behalf of Adidas and he was reimbursed by Gatto and Adidas, defense attorneys introduced bank statements showing two $40,000 wire transfers from Martin Fox to Gassnola. Fox, who “wears many hats” according to Gassnola, sent one payment shortly before Smith committed to NC State in September 2015 and the second shortly before Gassnola met with Early.
Smith eventually signed an endorsement deal with Under Armour after leaving NC State following his redshirt freshman season.
Gassnola testified he gave $15,000 to “Larnelle,” a family friend of Ayton, in 2015 to establish a relationship between Adidas and the Ayton family. Larnelle was expected to give the money to Ayton’s mother, according to Gassnola. Ayton was a junior in high school at the time; he played in one grassroots event for Adidas and eventually attended Arizona, a Nike school, before signing with Puma upon being drafted.
During cross-examination, Gassnola testified that he felt as if he let Kansas head coach Bill Self down when Ayton chose Arizona over Kansas.
Gassnola testified he provided money to the guardian of Silvio De Sousa, who committed to Kansas in the summer of 2017 and will be a sophomore this season for the Jayhawks. According to Gassnola, Fenny Falmagne, De Sousa’s legal guardian, asked Gassnola for $2,500 for De Sousa to take online classes or night classes.
Falmagne also told Gassnola he received $60,000 from a Maryland booster, but the booster wanted his money back because De Sousa chose Kansas over Maryland. Gassnola told the jury he offered $20,000 to Falmagne to help.
In a phone call dated Sept. 11, 2017, Gassnola told Gatto about the De Sousa payment.
“I gotta get this guy another 20 grand on Wednesday because I gotta get him out from under this Under Armour deal,” Gassnola said on the wiretapped phone call, “and the deal he’s got with this guy who was taking care of him. He wants his money back because the kid didn’t go to Maryland.”
Gassnola told the jury he never made the $20,000 payment to Falmagne because the FBI investigation became public in September 2017.
Gassnola testified that he paid $90,000 to Nicole Player, the mother of former five-star recruit Billy Preston, who signed to play at Kansas but was held out because of eligibility concerns regarding a car incident in the fall of 2017. On Thursday, it was revealed the car — a Dodge Charger — belonged to Preston’s late grandmother.
According to Gassnola, he made several payments to Player totaling $90,000 over the course of one year.
The first, a payment of $50,000, was given to Player in New York City. The second, a payment of $20,000, was given to Player in Las Vegas at the SLS Hotel. The next two payments were via wire transfers, one for $20,000 from Gassnola’s fiancée’s account to Timicha Kirby, Player’s partner; and one for $15,000 to Player.
The government produced bank statements showing all four payments.
Gassnola told the jury he planned to make a $4,000 payment to Player in the fall of 2017 but was unclear on whether he made the payment.
When Preston was held out of competition, Gassnola testified that Player asked Gassnola to tell Kansas’ attorneys that he never gave her any money. Gassnola’s lawyers sent a statement to Kansas’ attorneys stating that nothing went on financially between Gassnola and Player — a statement Gassnola told the jury Thursday was not true.
Gassnola told the jury he didn’t want anybody to find out.
Gassnola also testified regarding discussions he had with Brad Augustine, a grassroots director in Florida, about five-star prospect Nassir Little. According to Gassnola, Augustine approached him at Adidas Nations in August 2017 and asked him if Kansas would have any interest in Little. After Gassnola inquired with the Kansas coaching staff, he had a conversation with Augustine where Augustine expressed that he wanted to get paid for Little to go to Miami, an Adidas school.
Gassnola testified that Augustine told Gassnola he knew — via Dawkins — about the $100,000 payment Adidas agreed to pay Bowen’s family for Bowen to attend Louisville.
“Just FYI: your loose lips are putting me and other ppl in a bad spot,” Gassnola told Dawkins in a text message introduced to the jury Thursday.
In a wiretapped phone call from Aug. 11, 2017, Code told Gatto regarding Augustine: “He needs some assistance in the same way we were assisting Bowen.”
On the call, Code added: “Arizona’s offered the kid 150.”
Gatto responded by asking whether Adidas needed to match the Arizona offer to get Little to commit to Miami.
Dawkins and Gatto both mention on phone calls they discussed Little’s recruitment with Miami coaches, but there was no evidence the coaches knew about a potential money scheme involving Augustine.
Little’s family has denied ever being offered payment to attend school. Following the FBI investigation announcement last September, Little committed to North Carolina.
With school and conference media days beginning this week around the country, college basketball coaches and administrators are weighing in on the trial.
“I would say there’s going to be three trials and every day there seems to be revelations,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. “Some of them are new and some of them have been heard before. But these were statements made under oath as a result of the FBI wiretaps of hundreds of hours if not more of thousands of conversations. Very negative.”
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said he was very concerned about the trial, the testimony and some of the allegations.
“We treat it with a real seriousness and we monitor it very carefully, as are our schools. … We’ll certainly hold any judgment until the process [is completed],” Scott said.
Purdue coach Matt Painter also weighed in.
“Any time you have a court case that you’re able to get testimony in public, people don’t take it as just testimony. They take it as fact. It’s not facts, unless they have it on a wiretap. There still has to be proof,” Painter said. “I always compare what’s going on to steroids in baseball. Did the whole [investigation] with steroids in baseball stop steroids in baseball? No. Did it help baseball? I think it helped baseball. So if it can help and improve the integrity of your game, then I think it’s a great thing.”