Thursday, April 26, 2018
Sports

College basketball scandal dips into Tampa Bay

Secret recordings. Undercover agents. Bribes. Federal indictments. College basketball's latest national scandal into the unsavory methods that coaches, agents and shoe company representatives use to make inroads with elite high school prospects has it all — including connections to Tampa Bay.

The NCAA assistant coaches facing charges are Auburn's Chuck Person, Arizona's Emanuel Richardson, Southern Cal's Tony Bland and Oklahoma State's Lamont Evans. Bland, a former Syracuse standout and coach at San Diego State, was arrested in Tampa on Tuesday morning, hours after watching a workout session at Oldsmar Christian. Bland was there to see Elijah Weaver, a four-star recruit who has the Trojans among his top choices.

"It's kind of crazy," Oldsmar Christian coach John Bianchi said. "I got a bunch of texts and phone calls Tuesday morning from people telling me what happened. I was like, 'Whoa. This is big.' He was just here."

The Los Angeles Times reported, based on court documents, that Bland met sports agent Christian Dawkins at a hotel room in Las Vegas two months ago to discuss the signing of two USC players, who were not identified.

Bland was paid $13,000 secretly provided by the government, and the meeting in the hotel room was secretly recorded. Bland also arranged for meetings with family members for the purpose of paying them.

"I definitely can get the players. … And I can definitely mold the players and put them in the lap of you guys," said Bland, according to the documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

"…Obviously we have a couple opportunities, where we have a gold mine over here."

Evans, who was hired as a Cowboys assistant in April 2016, was scheduled to be at an Oldsmar Christian workout this week to watch Weaver, who is considering Oklahoma State.

This offseason Evans worked closely with former Tampa Catholic standout Thomas Dziagwa, a sophomore for the Cowboys.

RELATED:NCAA coaches among 10 charged with fraud and corruption

The Tulsa World reported, per court documents, that Evans received at least $22,000 in bribes in exchange for influencing student-athletes in his programs at South Carolina, where he was an assistant from 2012-16, and Oklahoma State to retain services from Munish Sood, a defendant and a cooperating witness for the government.

Weaver is supposed to make his college decision within the next few weeks, Bianchi said. Besides USC and Oklahoma State, the 6-foot-5 point guard also has Ohio State and Florida among his short list of schools.

Bianchi said the latest developments with Bland and Evans likely would factor in Weaver's decision.

"I think it would have to play a role, maybe even cross them off the list," Bianchi said. "You don't know what those schools are going to be dealing with as far as NCAA penalties with these infractions."

There were no improprieties with Weaver or his Oldsmar Christian teammates and the assistants involved in the probe, according to Bianchi. But the coach said he has grown weary of the influence assistants and shoe companies can have in steering athletes toward a particular program through monetary means.

"You have to watch out for people and what they say or might try to give kids in hopes of influencing their decisions," Bianchi said. "There's just so much money and craziness out there now. It's not about playing fair anymore."

Assistant college coaches were not the only ones charged in Manhattan federal court. Others included managers, agents, financial advisers and shoe company representatives.

For years, shoe companies have provided free footwear to cultivate relationships at the grassroots level with projected high school stars. Shoes are not the only thing handed out. So are uniforms and trips.

Former Tampa Catholic standout Kevin Knox knows.

Knox, now a freshman at Kentucky, has more than 100 pairs of sneakers stashed in his bedroom. They were given to him by shoe companies, one of the perks of being ranked among the top 10 high school players in the nation this past season.

Nike gave Tampa Catholic $10,000 to $15,000 worth of gear last season, according to Crusaders coach Don Dziagwa.

RELATED: NBA or bust: Kevin Knox's lifelong push for the pros

The swag is handed out to sway top-tier prospects into signing endorsement deals with shoe companies once they reach the NBA.

Knox, who could declare for the NBA draft after this season, has kept his options with shoe companies open.

"It's crazy with the shoe companies because all of them have different events and they're in your ear 24/7," Knox said in March. "They all want you to be a part of their brand so they send you a bunch of shoes. The brands definitely fight over you, and it's going to be really hard."

The sting operation conducted by the FBI and the United States' latest investigation started in 2015, but there have been other probes by the NCAA in recent years.

In 2012, the NCAA shook up the summer league circuit by banning four AAU programs from participating in NCAA-sanctioned events because of their association with a sports agent.

One of those teams was the St. Petersburg-based Adidas Florida Rams, founded by Clearwater High graduate Matt Ramker.

The NCAA said the Rams and three other teams had contact with Andy Miller, who urged Ramker and others to steer players toward his ASM Sports Agency.

Ramker currently is an agent with ASM. One of his clients is the Miami Heat's Okaro White, a former standout with Clearwater.

Dawkins, one 10 arrested Tuesday, was an NBA agent who was recently fired from ASM Sports for approximately charging $42,000 in Uber charges on a player's credit card, according to ESPN.

For the players at Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma State and Southern California, the news of the sting left them wondering if they will be able to compete in the NCAA Tournament.

Dziagwa told his father, the Tampa Catholic coach, that the Cowboys were planning a team meeting to discuss what happened.

"Thomas said it was eerily quiet in the locker room," Don Dziagwa said. "They were all trying to watch ESPN to catch up on what's happening. It's tough for them I'm sure. It's just crazy with the money and everything that's going in college basketball."

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