After declining to comment on the happenings in the federal trial on basketball corruption most of the day Wednesday, University of Kansas basketball coach Bill Self that evening denied that his staff had done anything wrong when recruiting players.
“When recruiting prospective student-athletes, my staff and I have not and do not offer improper inducements to them or their families to influence their college decisions, nor are we aware of any third-party involvement to do so,” he said, reading from a written statement. “As the leader of the Kansas men’s basketball program, I take pride in my role to operate with integrity and within the NCAA rules, which is a fundamental responsibility of being the head basketball coach.”
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self and Jayhawks Lagerald Vick, Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike spent Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, at Sprint Center, in Kansas City, Mo., for Big 12 media day.
KU, which has won at least a share of the last 14 Big 12 Conference regular season championships, had become a focus of the trial in New York, specifically Self’s relationship with government witness and former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola. Gassnola testified that he paid the families of players to steer them to KU, including $90,000 to the mother of Billy Preston and $2,500 to Fenny Falmagne, the guardian of Silvio De Sousa. Gassnola testified that he never told Self about the payments.
The defense in the case argued that the coaches, including Self and KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend, were aware of the payments to players.
“I have total confidence in all of my staff, including (Townsend),” Self said Wednesday evening. “I feel as strongly about that today as I did five, 10 and 15 years ago.”
Self previously said he would not comment on the trial until it concluded. While he was talking to reporters in a breakout session at the Big 12 media day Wednesday afternoon, the jury announced it found all three men facing charges — former Adidas executive James Gatto, business manager Christian Dawkins and amateur league director Merl Code — guilty of defrauding universities, including KU, by providing money to players’ families to steer them toward certain programs.
At his Wednesday evening press conference, Self read a statement in response to the end of the trial. He said that he would not comment on elements of the trial and that his comments were not a direct rebuke of testimony from the trial. He repeatedly declined to answer questions that he said were related to the trial.
In his statement, Self acknowledged that shoe companies have an influence at all levels of basketball, including the high school level.
“They work hard to develop brand loyalty with top high school prospects and they have some influence with them, which is totally permissible under NCAA guidelines, just like (a) high school coach could, an AAU coach, a trusted advisor and especially a parent,” he said.
While answering questions, Self said there are more third-party groups influencing players than just shoe companies, and that it would be impossible to track all of them.
“To say everyone should know everything that’s going on, I think that would be difficult to do,” he said. “I’m not shucking responsibility at all. I won’t run from this.”
• • •
Earlier Wednesday, Self declined to comment on the trial during the Big 12 media day at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., noting he was given a “mandate” not to talk about it. Self did not elaborate on where that mandate came from.
Once notified that the trial had concluded during the breakout session, Self said he was still not prepared to comment at the time.
When asked whether he was frustrated he couldn’t respond to the allegations revealed in court, Self said it’s often better to be quiet.
“Anytime somebody punches you, I think your tendency is to fight back,” he said prior to the verdict coming down. “But sometimes the best thing to say is nothing.”
When asked whether he was worried that the allegations revealed in the trial might hurt his legacy, he said he would not “sit here and defend myself.”
“Based on perception from what’s come out and what’s been reported, certainly people can have their thoughts and opinions,” he said. “I’ve got to be mature enough to understand that and not be mad about it.”
Prior to his morning news conference, Self said on WHB 810 Sports Radio that it was “uncomfortable” to hear his name brought up in the trial.
In recent testimony, both the prosecution and the defense said families of KU players Preston and De Sousa received cash payments to attend KU. Text messages and phone calls revealed in court showed that Self and assistant coach Kurtis Townsend were aware of Adidas’ involvement in helping to recruit players.
“It has been uncomfortable, but I also am confident in how we conduct our business,” Self said during the broadcast. “(Hearing their names) brings discomfort, but it would also bring discomfort if neither of our names were brought up and a player’s name was.
“It’s unsettling to see those reports through the media and testimony,” he added. “(But) we’re big boys. We know we have to deal with that. It goes with the territory.”
Although Self declined to comment about the trial when he began talking to reporters in the afternoon, he again spoke about eligibility questions surrounding De Sousa. Self said that De Sousa was aware of the possibility of being held out, but Self said he did not tell De Sousa until Tuesday.
“He certainly now feels sad because he’s had something taken away from him that he obviously did not anticipate would be taken from him,” Self said. “He’s a big boy too … Eligibility issues are very commonplace in college athletics, and guys have to deal with them.”
Although Townsend’s name also came up in the trial, Self said his responsibilities in recruitment have not changed.
“Not at all,” he said.
KU player Dedric Lawson told the Journal-World that Townsend has been at practices and team meetings as he normally would.
• • •
When asked if he had any concerns about continuing a partnership with Adidas, Self deferred questions to the KU Athletic Director Jeff Long, who was not available for interviews at the event.
In a statement released after the verdict came down, Long and Chancellor Douglas Girod said the university will evaluate whether it wants to continue a partnership with the athletic apparel company.
Girod and Long said the university did not have a timeline for making a decision on whether to sign a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract extension with Adidas. KU and Adidas announced the pending extension days before allegations of the recruiting scheme were made public in September 2017.
“Finally, while we have made no decision regarding a long-term contract extension with our apparel partner, Adidas, we continue to evaluate our options,” the two said in the statement. “There is no timetable for a decision. A strong apparel partnership is important and beneficial to all our student-athletes and our institution, and we will take great care in making the right decision for KU.”
Even though Self, his assistant coach and players on his team became centerpieces of the trial, Self said he was upbeat about his program.
“As a leader of our program, why should I let things that are going on somewhere else affect how I am around my players or how I coach my team?” he said. “You’re not much of a leader if that’s the case. I should be able to handle both, and certainly I will.”
Self said he doesn’t think the trial has had any effect on his current team, but he does think it may have affected the program’s recruiting of future players.
“I would say it hasn’t helped,” he said. “It’s been hard because we haven’t been able to explain.”
• • •
During their news conferences, Kansas State coach Bruce Weber and West Virginia coach Bob Huggins both answered questions about alleged recruiting violations revealed in the trial.
Weber said he believed it was a nationwide problem and hoped it would get fixed, but he doesn’t worry about what other institutions are doing.
“I can’t worry about what other people do,” he said. “I just worry about what we do. We try to do it right and I think we got good players. We’ve got good kids. So we’ve got an opportunity to be successful and that’s what we’re really focused on.”
“At the same time,” he continued, “the game is important to me and I want things corrected if it can be and hopefully it will be in the future.”
Huggins said he didn’t think it had been proven just yet that basketball programs were involved in the recruiting scandal but that, if it did happen, it was just a small number of schools involved.
“We’re talking, what, four or five schools at most?” he said, noting there are 361 teams in Division I basketball. “I think the state of our game is fine. If things happened, we all know they shouldn’t have happened, but that doesn’t affect that state of our game and the way people go about doing their business.”
— Journal-World reporter Matt Tait contributed to this story.