Originally published October 11, 2018 at 01:06p.m., updated October 11, 2018 at 06:29p.m.

Latest testimony in college basketball corruption trial goes into further details on KU’s involvement

In this file photo from Dec. 29, 2017, Kansas forward Silvio DeSousa, left, sits next to teammate Billy Preston at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

In this file photo from Dec. 29, 2017, Kansas forward Silvio DeSousa, left, sits next to teammate Billy Preston at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.


A trial aiming to tackle major college basketball corruption has begun to detail how the families of two players received cash payments for them to attend the University of Kansas, according to multiple reporters covering the trial.

Former Adidas consultant TJ Gassnola testified Thursday morning at the federal trial in New York City that he made multiple payments, totaling $90,000, to former KU basketball player Billy Preston’s mother, Nicole Player, for him to attend KU, according to a report from CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander. Gassnola said he first paid her $30,000 in a New York City hotel room and then paid her $20,000 in a Las Vegas hotel room.

Business manager Christian Dawkins, former amateur coach Merl Code and former Adidas executive Jim Gatto have pleaded not guilty to defrauding various colleges by concealing the use of under-the-table payments of up to $100,000 from Adidas in exchange for commitments to programs that were seen as a path to big NBA paydays. Their lawyers haven't disputed payments were arranged in violation of NCAA rules, but they argue the schools never suffered any harm.

Gassnola, 46, a former Adidas consultant who pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges in March, continued to drop some notable names in basketball, including KU coaches and players, during his second day on the witness stand.

Gassnola and Gatto were “ambassadors” to KU for the 2016 Late Night in the Phog, when Preston was in attendance for a recruiting visit. Gassnola told Player he wanted to be the only person paying the family and he heard they were being paid by “outside entities,” Norlander reported.

When Preston’s eligibility came into question after he wrecked a car at the beginning of the 2017-18 season, Player said the car belonged to his grandmother, which KU believed, Norlander reported.

Gassnola testified that Player asked him to tell KU attorneys that he did not give money to the family, according to an ESPN report. He said his lawyers sent a letter to the university's lawyers denying any payments, a statement he said was not true during the trial on Thursday.

KU then found the money transfers from Gassnola to Player, according to a report from the trial by Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel.

Gassnola testified that Player told him she would tell KU investigators that she was in a romantic relationship with him, which would make the transfer of money “OK,” Norlander reported.

Texts between Player and Preston show her giving her son directions on how to disrupt KU's investigation into the payments if they asked him about Gassnola, according to Norlander.

Preston never played an official game at KU, and eventually left the program during the season while the university and NCAA were continuing to look into his eligibility. He now plays professional basketball for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers organization.

Gassnola also testified that he paid $2,500 to current KU player Silvio De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, according to Norlander.

Gassnola meant to pay $20,000 to Falmagne to get De Sousa out of the $60,000 deal with a Maryland booster, but he never made the payment because the FBI made its investigation public, according to reports from Norlander and ESPN’s Jeff Borzello.

Gassnola testified that he recruited De Sousa to play for KU but never made the $20,000 payment, according to Norlander. The relationship between De Sousa and KU began when KU assistant basketball coach Kurtis Townsend asked Gassnola to connect Falmagne to Adidas, as Falmagne was looking to get Adidas gear for the Angolan National Team, Norlander reported.

Gassnola said he had a “brief” conversation with KU basketball coach Bill Self about the relationship, but said he never told Self or Townsend about the payment, Norlander reported.

On Wednesday, Self said he would not comment on the trial until it ends.

“I can’t talk about that,” Self said Wednesday. “And I’m not meaning to be opaque about this at all. I just feel that our stance is still the same. We’ll comment when the time’s appropriate. And the appropriate time is when this is done.”

Gassnola also said that while working under the direction of Gatto, he paid out $15,000 in cash in 2015 to try to lure DeAndre Ayton to an Adidas school only to see him sign with Nike-sponsored Arizona. Ayton attended Arizona for his freshman season before being drafted by the Phoenix Suns.

Gassnola tried to secure a permanent housing and a full-time job in Kansas for Ayton’s mother to get him to attend KU to play basketball, according to Norlander.

Gassnola said he felt he let Self down in his failed “outside recruitment” of Ayton, according to Norlander.

Gassnola also testified he made a secret $40,000 payment to the inner circle of North Carolina State recruit Dennis Smith Jr. through an assistant coach at the school.

He told a jury he delivered the money in cash to the coach, Orlando Early, on a trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2015. He said the coach told him he was going to give it to a personal trainer for Smith, a highly touted point guard, as way to get it to Smith's family.

Asked Thursday about the testimony about North Carolina State, Athletic Director Debbie Yow said in statement, "If any former employee was involved, they knew they were breaking the rules and chose to keep it hidden."

Early did not respond to a text message from the AP on Thursday. North Carolina State announced in 2017 that both he and head coach Mark Gottfried were leaving the program months before the corruption case became public.

Smith played one year at NC State. He's now in the NBA playing for the Dallas Mavericks.

Gassnola also described how he texted then-Louisville head coach Rick Pitino in a panic in September 2017 when he learned there was an investigation into the payments made to several players, including Louisville recruit Brian Bowen Jr.

"I was just looking for information, and I instinctively reached out to him," the witness said.

There's no evidence that Pitino responded to the text. The legendary coach was never accused of a crime but was fired amid the fallout.

The trial resumes Monday.

— Journal-World reporter Dylan Lysen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Suzi Marshall 2 years, 8 months ago

So long as the coaches were not involved with making or arranging payments, I really don’t see what the big deal is. What a third party does is no business of Kansas or the NCAA. If the NCAA hits Kansas retroactively, they should revisit UCLA and Sam Gilbert!

Jeff Polaski 2 years, 8 months ago

I don't see what the big deal is either way. Universities and the NCAA should quit disallowing kids from marketing themselves because of self serving shamateurism rules.

Jeff Coffman 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm confused, De Sousa's guardian was paid $20,000 not to take $60,000? And that KU wanted him to connect to Adidas, but was unaware of any payments or expected payments. The total of the amount paid was $2500? If so I think there is a good chance De Sousa plays.

From a Preston, I think we may have had an issue, but since Preston's family was very deliberate amount the lies and on top of that, Preston never played, I think KU will be fine. It'll be interesting since they talk about Wire Transfers, if KU or other universities will be required to search for wire transfers into relatives that they don't know about from organizations that might have benefit from KU having a player...seems so incredibly difficult.

I still think the prosecutors are going to have a hard time proving that a crime was committed. It seems that as the defense mentions that NCAA rules were broken. Where I don't know and legally am unaware, is if a wire transfer somehow creates a crime. I could see that the wire transfer to avoid taxes could be construed as such; however, the defense could argue we made the payment, and they are responsible for the payment of taxes...don't know if a 1099 form was issued. Again I'm just unaware of how they create a crime of this as I think this is the argument of the defense.

Brian Wilson 2 years, 8 months ago

Your on to it. First, it's tax evasion. Unreported Income. Then, it's very hard to take out $10,000 without the banks asking questions. So, when cash payments were made where did the money come from. Which brings up possible "money laundering" charges. Then the next is "payola", which is normally related to radio and television but it fits in this situation because its against the law to use your power and position (Addidas rep & KU sponsor) to pay someone money to promote a product through the use of a third parties assets (KU) without permission. A clearer way to look at.....In essence the player was an employee of Addidas, being paid to play basketball for KU (which makes him a professional) to promote Addidas products, using KU facilities, coaches, trainers, reputation, without KU knowledge or consent. So, not claiming the income, not paying taxes, accepting bribes to break rules, misrepresenting (fraud) to KU and the NCAA.

Jonathan Allison 2 years, 8 months ago

while it does sound like there was an attempt to conceal this activity from KU officials, the fact KU coaches had allegedly talked to these characters and that Coach T allegedly asked Gassnola to connect Falmagne with adidas looks very bad without any other contextual information, and it lends itself to the idea that there is a don't ask, don't tell understanding between coaches and "runners". Certainly the burden of proof would be on the investigating body to prove that coaches know about payments to their players.

I really want the FBI and NCAA to get to the bottom of this problem, but I hope that it doesn't cost KU in the way for forfeiture of wins and potentially drag down Coach Self and the program.

That said, there are a few things that seem to possible help to at least partially exonerate KU in this. One being that the reported $20G to Falmagne, may end up being only $2,500 (compared to $60,000 that he presumably had to pay back to the Maryland people). The other being that KU presumably found out about the payments to Nicole Player after the car accident and proceeded to hold him out of competition.

Strangely though in an ESPN article it is claimed that the defense attorney's for Dawkins or whomever presented as evidence documents indicated that De Sousa had contractual agreements with a pro-team in Spain, as well as with a sports agent. Link below.

Jesse Johnson 2 years, 8 months ago

My thoughts exactly. This makes it seem like our coaches were involved in connecting recruits with Adidas, even if they aren't explicitly called out for helping arrange actual payments. Why would our coaches even be in contact with Adidas personnel regarding recruits? This does not look good at all.

Al Martin 2 years, 8 months ago

Agreed. And if KU found the wire tranfers from an Adidas rep to Preston's Mom, why is KU still affiliated with Adidas?

Len Shaffer 2 years, 8 months ago

I wouldn't think KU could break its affiliation with Adidas very easily. They have a contract and until something is proven, they probably wouldn't be able to break it without having to pay a lot. And even once they're ready to break the affiliation, they would have to take the time to make an agreement with another supplier. It's not something that can be done overnight.

Jesse Johnson 2 years, 8 months ago

Actually KU just renewed their contract with Adidas this summer. They could have easily gone with another company without having to break a contract. I just think it wouldn't matter because they're all corrupt.

Shannon Gustafson 2 years, 8 months ago

No, they have still not signed their contract with Adidas. Adidas gave them a contract but that's as far as it's gone. It appears KU is holding out until this trial is over.

Ben Berglund 2 years, 8 months ago

Don't be naive Al, I don't think this is an instance where a principled stand is even a possibility. College bball is tainted to its core by shoe cartels and the NCAA and its insistence on "amateurism" to protect their monopoly

Al Martin 2 years, 8 months ago

I didn't express myself well; I was trying to show cynicism, not naivete. I think KU knows and has known exactly what's going on, and participates willingly.

Marcia Parsons 2 years, 8 months ago

Maybe Gassola asked Townsend to introduce him to DeSousa, and Townsend told him he'd have to talk to his guardian. Could have been that simple.

Dane Pratt 2 years, 8 months ago

After Gassnola inquired with the Kansas coaching staff, ...

That's the one line of testimony thus far that concerns me most.

Shannon Gustafson 2 years, 8 months ago

They straight up asked Gassnola if any KU coaches new of any payments and he said none of them had any knowledge of any payments.

Gassnola has thrown a lot of people under the bus so far so the fact that he said no KU coaches had a clue is a huge win for KU.

He also says the 20k to SDS's guardian was to pay off a 60k payment from a Maryland booster. Gassnola says the payment was discussed but never actually happened. He did say he paid $2500 to cover his summer classes. As far as I can tell, this is also a win for KU as a $2500 payment is a minor deal relative to the other numbers being discussed. Darnell Jackson had to pay back a $5000 payment and sit a handful a games for it. SDS would presumably be treated similarly.

The big question remaining is if the $60k payment from a Maryland booster can be proven. If so, it puts the NCAA in a weird situation because if they were to penalize KU for this, it would open up a loophole where boosters from rival schools could simply pay kids playing for rival schools in order to get the rival in trouble (KSU booster paying KU player to get him ineligible and therefore hurt KU for example).

Len Shaffer 2 years, 8 months ago

You make a lot of good points, Shannon. And I think you're right about the fact that Gassnola said no KU coaches knew being a huge win for KU.

Eric Dawson 2 years, 8 months ago

Spot on, Shannon, on all points. I would also point out that since the whole point of the NCAA rules in this area is to avoid having people using $ to influence recruits' commitment decisions, Silvio's decision to attend KU instead of Maryland should stand him in good stead with the NCAA. Supports Silvio's assertions neither he nor his family knew about or benefited from the $ the guardian took from Maryland. And since there was no money paid to get Silvio to KU, he's good there. So why in the world would the NCAA punish a kid for deciding on his own where to go? That's the end goal of the rules, no influence, and clearly there was none by the guardian. Like you, I think the $2500 is the only sticky point that the NCAA may grab him on, and that should result in something similar to Darnell's punishment (although since it is clear that the guardian did all kinds of stuff without the knowledge of Silvio or his parents, I think even that would be really, really wrong).

Robert Brock 2 years, 8 months ago

Self is right - wait until all the information is collected before drawing conclusions. So far, there is a lot of uncooberated, weird input.

Caden Ford 2 years, 8 months ago

I believe Gassnola was an AAU Coach, so if he was part of an Adidas circuit team or tournament, lots of coaches would be in contact with him about what teams are playing, which prospects are going to be there, etc. So I don’t think it was out of the norm when it started. But hopefully, once this is all said and done, KU will come out proving that compliance did everything they could and that KU has no knowledge of anything happening “behind the scenes” or so to say with the adidas consultants and the players.

Phil Leister 2 years, 8 months ago

One end result from all this - no way KU signs the pending contract with Adidas. Absolutely no way.

Travis Clementsmith 2 years, 8 months ago

Really? Adidas was the ones they were able to tap. One UA school has been implicated and three Nike schools. So, where do you think we are going to go?

Andy Tweedy 2 years, 8 months ago

Big Baller!!! {I hope you know I'm kidding}

Joe Ryan 2 years, 8 months ago

good thing the FBI got in front of this in 2017 because who knows how long it could have gone on or how many players could have been involved.

Craig Carson 2 years, 8 months ago

"The relationship between De Sousa and KU began when assistant baksetball coach Kurtis Townsend asked Gassnola to connect Falmagne with Adidas, Norlander reported."..that sentence right there doesnt sound right...why would any KU coach need to connect a player to a shoe company? maybe Im just reading too much into it??

Barry Weiss 2 years, 8 months ago

it could be that Silvio indicated to Coach T he wanted to come to KU, but the other deal prevented it. So maybe, and I hope not, Coach T knew Gassnola could buy that deal out. This whole think has got me nervous.

Shannon Gustafson 2 years, 8 months ago

They straight up asked Gassnola if any KU coaches new of any payments and he said none of them had any knowledge of any payments.

Gassnola has thrown a lot of people under the bus so far so the fact that he said no KU coaches had a clue is a huge win for KU.

He also says the $20k to SDS's guardian was to pay off a 60k payment from a Maryland booster. Gassnola says the payment was discussed but never actually happened. He did say he paid $2500 to cover his summer classes. As far as I can tell, this is also a win for KU as a $2500 payment is a minor deal relative to the other numbers being discussed. Darnell Jackson had to pay back a $5000 payment and sit a handful a games for it. SDS would presumably be treated similarly.

Ryan Zimmerman 2 years, 8 months ago

Time to pay the players. They can't hold jobs as student athletes, so how do they get money? Those tattoos are expensive!:) Seriously though, they have scholarships and lodging, etc which is great but money is money and until they get some type of salary this will be an issue. That salary should be universal across all D1 programs. Meaning, the better programs can't scoop up elite players just because their programs generate more revenue. Something fair and clear to keep this garbage from happening. Or make players and their guardians sign something that says "I didn't accept any money but if I did and I lied, then it's all on me and the school had nothing to do with it" basically. IDK, I'm just going on a rant...

Jeff Coffman 2 years, 8 months ago

I think these are two separate issues. One is an ethical issue and one is a business issue.

Technically the universal salary is applied already, it is a defined stipend (money), food, medical, lodging, and education. I get that you are proposing an additional salary on top of that, but you open up a whole other issue when you start paying them as employees. This becomes a Labor Issue, which creates a lot more complexities. I realize with the money that is generated they should be able to resolve those issues; however, I'm not sure a universal income for all athletes will benefit everyone as intended. Also, if the starting QB is making $10k and the third string kicker is making $10k, don't you think the ethical issue of paying someone a little more will surface?

Also, I'm not sure if I have seen any projections where we would pay $100k a year for a top recruit. The school would almost have to become agents for the students.

Patrick Bryant 2 years, 8 months ago

I know 1st hand of young people you played both male and female college sports @ lower levels and put in just as much time as these D1 athletes with MUCH FEWER perks and they went to class, never missed anything team related and worked a part-time job and actually graduated. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. All these kids get to choose to play @ college, oversea's or workout for a year and then get into the draft. The NBA drafts on potential every single pick. Don't lower your expectations of young people as all they will do is meet them.

Jesse Johnson 2 years, 8 months ago

I agree. Athletes are the only college students who can't profit off of their talents while in college. There's nothing stopping business students from starting for-profit businesses while they're attending college. Engineers get paid, by the school, to do research for the school while they're students. There is no reason why athletes, whose skills generate millions in revenue for the school, ESPN and the NCAA, can't also receive compensation, beyond just a scholarship.

Curtis Hedrick 2 years, 8 months ago

Time to adopt the collegiate baseball rules. Sign out of high school or commit to 3 years of college, period. This is not a new issue and has been going for decades but seems to have escalated with the AAU circuit and the OAD rule.

Brian Gress 2 years, 8 months ago

From the CBSSports article:

The relationship between Gassnola and Falmagne began after KU assistant Kurtis Townsend asked Gassnola to connect Falmagne with Adidas, as Falmagne was looking for the Angolan National Team to get product from Adidas. Gassnola said he had a "brief, brief conversation" with Self about this but said he kept payments to De Sousa's guardian secret from Self and Townsend.

Andy Tweedy 2 years, 8 months ago

Man, if all these schools go down, there's gonna be at least one REALLY boring tournament coming up in the next few years!

William Daniels 2 years, 8 months ago

Many seem to be missing the part where Gassnola said Townsend asked him to connect Falmagne with Adidas, because Falmagne was looking for the Angolan National Team to get Adidas gear. Whats wrong with that?

Shannon Gustafson 2 years, 8 months ago

Nothing is wrong with that as far as I know. A national team is looking for a sponsor and Townsend wants Adidas to be the sponsor since we've had very good luck with kids from Africa recently (Embiid, Dok, SDS) and only a single strike out (Diallo).

William Daniels 2 years, 8 months ago

Exactly. What you describe is perfectly fine and plausible. I think it could even be more simply could be helping the Angolan national team make a contact with an athletic gear vendor bypassing the business bureaucracy, with no further thought to benefits for KU of doing so. Just simply a standard, garden variety business referral.

Edward Daub 2 years, 8 months ago

Where Have You Gone "Chuck Taylor Converse" ALL STARS? The Preferred Basketball Shoe in the 1960's! Oops, Converse bought out by Nike! Swoosh!

Edward Daub 2 years, 8 months ago

Nike is Clean? LOL! Who can forget 2004 and the Recruitment of Detroit's Malik Hairston (he called himself the next Carmelo). A Private Plane was sent to Detroit to Whisk him out to Eugene, Oregon (the Alma Mater of Nike Owner Phil Knight), and Surprise, Surprise He chose Oregon over Kansas, Michigan, Ohio State, ETC! Shame, Shame, Shame!

Eric TheCapn 2 years, 8 months ago

Weird, I think I took a photo of Malik Hairston visiting while covering a volleyball game for the UDK. Haven't heard that name in a while!

Dustin Peterson 2 years, 8 months ago

(1) From the facts we know from the ESPN report, the Yahoo report, the CBS report, and testimony, the Billy Preston story is clearly no longer relevant to KU. Gassnola had his attornies lie to KU, Player lied to KU, Player instructed Preston to lie to KU, and KU performed all due diligence in its investigation while never placing him in any game. All clear.

(2) So far there is no information that ties KU as complicit in unethical recruitment of De Sousa, and I don’t think any evidence will surface for at least three reasons. First, if KU really needed a post, they’d have been making moves to get Preston clear, and KU was doing the opposite. Second, Gassnola testified that KU coaches knew nothing of the payments. That’s inconsistent with the principal strategy of the defense team, which is that coaches were DIRECTING the defendants to make these payments. Third, the NCAA did its own investigation of De Sousa, and cleared him.

(3) Adidas has a stake in this. Kansas is their flagship CBB deal, and it is in the best financial interest of Adidas to funnel top talent toward Kansas in any way they can.

(4) KU is not on trial. Whatever happens in this, whatever information is divulged, this is not about any school or coach because the prosecution team is not interested. This is a fraud action. The defense’s strategy of suggesting coaches are directing these payments, if proven, shows that the institutions have knowledge of the activities. And if the institutions know about it, there is no fraud.

Steve Grimm 2 years, 8 months ago

While it is (hopefully) likely that these proceedings will determine that KU was not complicit in any wrongdoing, the NCAA may still penalize KU if it is found that KU did not have sufficient "monitoring processes" in place. Penalties could result in win forfeitures. This has been stated by the NCAA. And there is precedence in the past where this has happened to other schools/sports.

I can only hope that it does not come to that. I think KU would have a strong case to argue. But I am not sure if it can overcome the power of the NCAA.

I am a glass half-full guy. But I doubt that De Sousa will play another game for KU. However, I do believe that KU will not be penalized.

Kevin Millikan 2 years, 8 months ago

Wow..Player for mother of the year! That's a special kind of greed to screw over your own son that way.

Ryan Zimmerman 2 years, 8 months ago

Wasn't it Billy's mom who was attacking the media for making her and BIlly out to be greedy, taking money, etc back when he was being held out of games?

Tony Bandle 2 years, 8 months ago

The following can be counted on by all:

1] Silvio will play this year.

2] There will be no forfeitures by KU of any games from last season.

3] KU will stay with Adidas, reap huge benefits and not be sullied by any scandal.

4] Not one 5 Star 2019 recruit will hesitate to pick Kansas.

5] The #16 Title is virtually a done deal.

6] The NCAA is perfectly happy to see somebody else besides them get the big bucks.

7] I live next to the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy delivers our mail.

Craig Carson 2 years, 8 months ago

! dont agree lol...#2, I agree long as noone on the KU staff is directly linked, they'd have a case against vacating wins #3...not sure at this point staying with Adidas is a smart move #4 I honestly think KU still lands Earl and Hurt..which might be all they need #5 this might actually be true LOL

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