Sunday, November 11, 2018

Wading in Deep Water

Will Wade is entering his second season as the head coach of LSU’s Men’s Basketball team. In his first year at the helm, Wade led the Tigers to an 18-15 (8-10 SEC) record and a second round finish in the NIT Tournament. This had been LSU’s first winning season since 2015-16, and their first NIT Tournament appearance since 2013-14.

Wade had a very encouraging track record before taking the LSU job. He posted a 51-20 (28-8 A-10) record as the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University while taking the Rams to two straight NCAA Tournaments and winning an Atlantic-10 Regular Season Conference Championship in 2015-16.

Prior to his VCU stint, Wade began his head coaching career at the University of Chattanooga. In his two seasons as the Mocs’ headman, Wade had an overall record of 40-25 (27-7 SoCon), placed second in the regular season standings in both years, guided the program to its only Postseason Tournament, and won Coach of the Year honors for the 2013-14 season.

As the 2018-19 season approaches, the expectations have risen for Wade and the LSU basketball program. He has the Tigers ranked No. 23 in the Preseason AP Top 25 Poll and has an incoming recruiting class ranked No. 3 in the nation and No. 2 in the SEC behind Kentucky. Despite this newfound optimism and excitement surrounding LSU basketball, there is still a dark cloud that lingers not too far away from the program.

That dark cloud manifested itself as a 2017 FBI investigation regarding corruption, fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery in NCAA Division-1 Men’s Basketball. The main parties involved included apparel company Adidas and over 20 Division-1 college basketball programs. In sum, this entire scandal was a pay-for-play scheme.

The leading men were Christian Dawkins (an aspiring sports agent), James Gatto (an Adidas employee), and Merl Code (a former Adidas consultant). They would essentially bribe high school basketball prospects to attend Adidas-sponsored universities and then pay the coaches (mostly the assistants) to make sure that these same players then signed with Adidas and certain sports agencies upon entering the pro level. The coaches who were indicted would also receive payments to sway certain recruits to come to their schools.

LSU was not in the first group of schools initially implicated, but in a second sweep it was revealed that guard Tim Quarterman had supposedly received $16,000 during his three-year career for the Purple and Gold. This money came from ASM Sports, a sports agency who Christian Dawkins was affiliated with until his termination in 2017.

By itself, this allegation would be concerning. However, it does not pertain to Will Wade because Quarterman was no longer with the team when he began his coaching tenure. Instead, Wade has something a tad more difficult to explain. According to phone records, Wade exchanged three phone calls with Christian Dawkins between June 19th and June 30th in 2017 that were recorded with a wiretap.

One conversation in particular related to improper benefits concerning the recruiting of 7-foot-tall center Balsa Koprivica from Montverde, Florida. When Dawkins asked if Wade wanted Koprivica, the LSU coach was quoted in the transcript as saying, “OK, but there is other [expletive] involved in it…. Wait, I’ve got to shut the door … I can get you what you need but it’s got to work.”

During the October 16th trial of Dawkins, Gatto, and Code in federal district court, Adidas defense attorney Casey Donnelly tried to admit this taped conversation into evidence. Judge Lewis A. Kaplan denied the entry of the evidence, but Donnelly did get to read the transcript aloud. When asked about the use of these statements at SEC media days on October 17th, Wade denied having any interaction with Dawkins and also pointed to the fact that the evidence was not let in.

He also refused to answer any “yes” or “no” questions regarding if the conversation did in fact take place. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva has come out in support of Wade and stated that the university would be ready to comply with the NCAA to “ensure compliance in all athletic programs.”

This is now the second time that Wade has been mentioned in the FBI’s NCAA probe since being hired at LSU. The NCAA has been exploring his recruiting methods all the way back to his time at VCU, but has found nearly nothing out of the ordinary in their prolonged search. As far as the FBI is concerned, they are not even looking into Wade despite the hazy LSU connections to the investigation.