Tuesday, October 16, 2018

If that’s what it takes’: KU assistant coach taped by feds discussing recruit’s demand for cash

Kansas head coach Bill Self, right, and assistant Kurtis Townsend chat at half court during a day of practices and press conferences prior to a March 2017 KU game at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas head coach Bill Self, right, and assistant Kurtis Townsend chat at half court during a day of practices and press conferences prior to a March 2017 KU game at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.


A phone conversation in which University of Kansas assistant basketball coach Kurtis Townsend and former amateur coach Merl Code discussed a high-profile player’s recruitment was not admitted as evidence in the college basketball corruption trial in which Code is a defendant, but could cause problems for Townsend and the university down the road.

Mark Moore, an attorney for Code, read a transcript of the conversation between Townsend and Code when in court to try to get it admitted as evidence, according to Dan Wetzel, a Yahoo Sports columnist. In a tapped phone call in which the two were discussing the recruitment of blue-chip prospect Zion Williamson, Townsend said, “Hey, but between me and you, you know, he asked about some stuff. You know? And I said, 'Well, we’ll talk about that, you decide.'"

Code said, "I know what he’s asking for. He’s asking for opportunities from an occupational perspective, he’s asking for cash in the pocket and he’s asking for housing for him and his family."

In reply, Townsend said, “I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way because if that’s what it takes to get him here for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”

Whether the “opportunities” were for Williamson or a family member is not clear, according to the report.

Williamson took a recruiting visit to KU, but committed to Duke to play basketball this year.

Presiding Judge Lewis A. Kaplan did not allow the conversation to be evidence in the case, which might have revealed the full context of the conversation, according to the report. Lewis said the call wasn’t relevant to the case because the conversation happened after the crimes of which Code is accused.

Along with Code, former Adidas executive Jim Gatto and business manager Christian Dawkins have pleaded not guilty to defrauding various universities, including KU, by concealing the use of under-the-table payments of up to $100,000 from Adidas in exchange for basketball recruits committing to programs that were seen as a path to big NBA paydays.

The Townsend tape wasn’t the only KU connection brought forward on Tuesday. It was revealed in court that federal officials made an effort to record a conversation by KU head coach Bill Self.

According to a report by Sports Illustrated writer Dan Greene, a five-minute conversation between Self and Gatto in August of 2017 was scheduled to be recorded by federal officials as part of a wiretap operation, but the recording failed due to technical difficulties. It is unclear what the two men discussed.

It is the second time Self’s name has come up in the trial as part of a mysterious conversation. Earlier in the week, T.J. Gassnola, who has admitted to paying Preston and De Sousa to attend KU, acknowledged that he had an approximately five-minute conversation with Self on Aug. 9, 2017. Self and Gassnola talked after Gassnola sent Self a text telling the coach that he had talked to the guardian of De Sousa, whom KU was trying to recruit at the time. Gassnola specifically asked Self to call him when Self was alone.

At trial, Gassnola testified that he could not remember what he and Self discussed.

The prosecutors and the defense in the trial — which has often centered on the KU basketball program’s recruiting methods — have both finished calling witnesses to the stand.

The trial will move to closing arguments on Wednesday and the jury will likely begin deliberating on Thursday. None of the defendants took the stand in the case. Although the Townsend conversation was discussed in court, Tuesday’s official testimony did not center on KU as much as it had in past days.

Although the conversation was not admitted into the trial, the case has often put KU front and center, showing the families of KU player Silvio De Sousa and former KU player Billy Preston receiving cash payments for their commitment to play at the university.

Text messages shown as evidence on Monday have also highlighted coach Bill Self’s knowledge of Adidas’ help in recruiting players, but did not show that Self or assistant coach Kurtis Townsend ever knew about payments to the players’ families.

Lawyers for Gatto have sought to use the texts to show that various basketball programs were aware of efforts to funnel secret payments to the families of De Sousa and other top-flight recruits.

The government considers KU one of the victims in the case. Defense attorneys for the three men facing charges haven’t disputed that payments were arranged in violation of NCAA rules, but they argue that the schools never suffered any harm.

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

Editor's note: This story quoted a transcript of the phone call as reported by Yahoo. The attribution on part of that quote was updated by Yahoo after publication, and the Journal-World's story has been changed to reflect that.


Suzi Marshall 3 years, 11 months ago

Damn, that bit with Coach T is the smoking implicating Kansas. Nevertheless, I'm not at all disappointed with Self, Townsend or anyone else associated with Kansas Basketball, including Adidas and their reps. I'm really angry with the NCAA for putting everyone (all the schools, coaches, players, parents, shoe companies, reps....) in this situation. This kind of thing has gone on forever with amateur athletics. The last several years, the NCAA has just looked the other way, taking a Sgt. Schultz position. It's just insane for these kids not to be able to make 3rd party deals, which trades on their likeness. No other university students are subject to the same ridiculous restrictions as the athletes. A student on scholarship in the music department is allowed to make money from a 3rd party in their profession. A student in the Engineering school can make money from a third party, i.e. ExxonMobil internship. The NCAA, which wimped out on a thing like the UNC academic fraud, which is infinitely more important and core to the purpose of a university, is just crazy.

Mike Hart 3 years, 11 months ago

Damn it, Suzi... stop making excuses for the coaching staff! The implication of Townsend and/or Self has nothing to do with the NCAA. Every other school is under the NCAA umbrella... but the news is on Kansas .. and in particular Townsend. It doesn't matter what's wrong with the NCAA. What matters is Townsend acknowledging that KU would have to find a way to accommodate Willamson's demands in order to attend KU. Whether Williamson came to KU or not, it shows Townsend was willing to break the rules to entice the kid to come here. The fact he went to Duke is likely damning to Duke. That does NOT absolve Kansas from wrongdoing. It isn't like Townsend responded with: "Are you crazy? We're not paying this kid and accommodating his family!". He wasn't outraged... rather, he was seeking to find a way to make it happen. That's just EGREGIOUS. The NCAA's status on paying players or not paying players DOES NOT JUSTIFY KU breaking the rules or willing to break the rules. Everyone's subject to the same rules. This stinks. I'm a KU alum and a diehard fan of both KU basketball and football (proving I am a glutton for punishment on the latter). I will not make excuses for the University or the basketball program, because of problems with the NCAA in general. Good or bad, the rules are the rules. That does not give us the right to break rules and cheat to get players. Shame on you...

P.S. With Self and the University failing to comment on this due to the court proceedings... I therefore expect both Self and University to answer questions once this court case is decided. A full explanation of these conversations and what happened. Failure to do so... after the court case has been decided... is all I need to know to conclude that Townsend was up to no good. If Self wont' speak, then it should be clear to any fair-minded, impartial person that he obviously knew something.

Suzi Marshall 3 years, 11 months ago

I don't disagree with what you say at all. My animosity toward the NCAA outweighs the Kansas situation because they have allowed this farce for generations. Plus as I mentioned, the UNC fraud infinitely eclipses any of this.

Jonathan Allison 3 years, 11 months ago

I attempted to reply to this is copied post from another article. But ultimately this is about Zion's dad looking for a school to offer him a job presumably around the program in order for him to move his family away from home to be near his son.

Ultimately Zion stayed close to home at Duke.

However, we've seen it many times before. Michael Porter at mizzou. Mario and Danny here at Kansas. It would seem to only be a problem if the NCAA could prove that the father was hired as a direct transaction in order to land the recruit. This usually seems pretty obvious, but to my knowledge the NCAA has viewed this as not a hill worth dying on. Presumeably because of the certain legal battle that they would face for disciplining a program in this situation.

So why now, should the NCAA decide to bring down the hammer on Kansas for allegedly considering hiring Zion's father, even after Zion chose to stay close to home and attend Duke?

Eliott Reeder 3 years, 11 months ago

All of this is pretty bad and while it doesn't necessarily PROVE any wrongdoing, it certainly makes Self and Townshend look culpable when it comes to working deals for players through Adidas middlemen. However, the Zion Williamson stuff is particularly interesting to me because, in my opinion, it implicates 'squeaky clean' Duke and Coach K as well. He was demanding cash and housing and other amenities, KU didn't come through or didn't come through with enough, so he went to Duke/Nike. Doesn't all of this seem like a 'highest bidder' type of game? Does anyone really think Zion's family wanted big money and incentives from Kansas, then decided to go to Duke for nothing? I don't think so. This entire thing just makes me think the whole system is and has been rigged, at least in the upper echelons of the game.

Mike Barnhart 3 years, 11 months ago

KT says, "...if that’s what it takes to get him here for 10 months..." "If that's what it takes" then that's what Nike did for Duke! Who's to say KT didn't go back to Coach Self who said, "Well, we aren't crossing that line, Kurtis, he can go to Duke if 'that's what it takes.'"

It's gotta stink to be Wichita St or KSU or Creighton and be way down the pecking order with your Shoe Company partner. "Well Duke and NC and Kentucky passed on this guy. So did Syracuse and Xavier. He's yours if you want him, Coach Webber!"

Bryce Landon 3 years, 11 months ago

It's gotta stink to be KSU no matter what. THEY'RE KSU, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! :D

Mike Barnhart 3 years, 11 months ago

One more thing:

There are over 300 schools with apparel contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The recruits play for ShoeCo sponsored AAU teams and the elite recruits attend ShoeCo sponsored prep schools. is the NCAA gonna' put this genie back in the bottle???

Michael Leiker 3 years, 11 months ago

Anybody know where the phone recording came from? Who tapped the phone?

Jonathan Allison 3 years, 11 months ago

It's not like our FBI or the Federal Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York had anything more important going on in 2016 and 2017. Like trying to figure out who leaked the DNC and Podesta emails.

Allison Steen 3 years, 11 months ago

Why are you bringing up politics? Leave it be. The FBI also consists of more than like 4 people. They work on different investigations.

Brian Leiker 3 years, 11 months ago

Any doubt that Self is leaving for the NBA is all but cleared up. He's not going to deal with this BS any longer.

Freedman Moor 3 years, 11 months ago

I said this a year ago and people tried to jump down my throat with their shoes on.

Barry Weiss 3 years, 11 months ago

The fact that they wanted to tape Coach Self is not good at all. They must have had some idea that this wire tap could produce fruit based on other information they already had. I believe you have to go to a judge to approve that sort of taping request based on some other facts.

Robin Smith 3 years, 11 months ago

They got court approval because they were monitoring Gassnola et al for wire fraud etc., but yes, not good for Self.

Robert Brock 3 years, 11 months ago

Sounds like a lot of salesman chatter. SHOW ME THE MONEY!

DB Ashton 3 years, 11 months ago

While Kansas is not on trial here, the university has been exposed undeniably as an active participant in a corrupt, and corrupting system. No circumstances mitigate that fundamental fact. And it should surprise no one. At the conclusion of this case, whatever the result, the administration should unilaterally declare De Sousa ineligible (he should not be practicing now), Townsend should be terminated, the Adidas contract should be voided for cause, certainly not renewed, and Self should be formally put on notice that further behavior like this will not be tolerated. Anything less would be a public admission that the university considers corruption no more than business as usual. I expect it does, in truth, and that it is, and that the great majority of Kansas basketball enthusiasts, of which I am one, is OK with it.

Dane Pratt 3 years, 11 months ago

The alternative to an Adidas contract is no contract with any shoe company because they are all doing it.

If Townsend needs to be terminated, then so should Self.

Kit Duncan 3 years, 11 months ago

Townsend said, “I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way because if that’s what it takes to get him here for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”

Can anyone find anything incriminating in that response by Coach Townsend? I can’t! All he said was “we’re going to have to do it some way.” There are no specific offers. Only generalities. Don’t read more into it than a coach not closing the door on a recruit.

Has anyone thought that possibly the FBI came to Coach Self and staff and asked for their help in rooting out corruption in the recruiting process? It’s a long shot I know, but not out of the realm of possibilities. If so, we’ll likely never know, except if Coach Self and his staff remain intact that might answer the question.

Buck Bukaty 3 years, 11 months ago

You appear to be the only sane person on here capable of reading and comprehending the English language. I assume you comprehend flight manuals too (thank God)! :-)

Barry Weiss 3 years, 11 months ago

well, we do need more of the convo...but "if that what it takes to get him here for 10 months" after hearing the dad wanted a job, cash and housing for his family and Coach T follows with "we're going to have to do "it" some way" does not look too good. I guess it depends on what the definition of "it"

Mike Hart 3 years, 11 months ago

Kit, anything incriminating?!? Well: "If that's what it takes to get him here for 10 months..." (which is giving him money, a job.. and housing for him and his family).. ."we're going to have to do it some way". The "it" is meeting those demands. Townsend acknowledged that KU was going to have to find some way to get it (those demands) done. If that isn't incriminating, then I don't know what is... Kit, your ability to look the other way... and fail to admit Townsend's willingness to try to satisfy these demands... is embarrassing.

RJ King 3 years, 11 months ago

Agree. It's possible that when KT said, "try to WORK and figure out a way," he meant it would take a LOT of effort (phone calls, requests) to find housing, job WITHOUT breaking any ncaa rules. Perhaps not likely, but certainly possible.

Maybe when KT couldn't come up with something legit that was worth enough, ZW decided to go to Duke. I fear the worst, but there's still hope.

Tony Bandle 3 years, 11 months ago

OH, I just woke up and Bobby is in the was all just a dream!!!!

Rick Holmes 3 years, 11 months ago

Mike Hart You are correct in saying this could be incriminating, as "it" can mean meeting those demands. "It" could also mean getting him to KU. He may be implying that a 10-month player is not worth that kind of risk. Zion Williamson did go to Duke after all... just saying. I know not proof positive one would have to hear the whole tape to know.

Doug Stahler 3 years, 11 months ago

Why don't you investigate Zion's family situation. Are his parents miraculously in Durham with good "jobs"? That would be excellent journalism.

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