Sports

Brian Bowen, caught between the FBI, NCAA and NBA, faced a career-changing decision

As an NBA deadline approached Wednesday, Brian Bowen could only await an NCAA decision, his basketball future in the balance.

Bowen, who transferred from Louisville to South Carolina during his freshman season after being caught up in the FBI's investigation into college basketball, entered the 2018 NBA draft but did not sign with an agent, giving himself the option of withdrawing from the draft and returning to school. The 6-7 forward, who was a Class of 2017 5-star recruit coming out of La Lumiere School in Indiana, had until Wednesday at 11:59 p.m., the deadline for leaving the draft and returning to school, to make that decision.

Until Wednesday afternoon, about seven hours before the deadline, Bowen remained in limbo, unsure of his chances of being drafted by an NBA team and not knowing if the NCAA will rule him eligible to play as a freshman.

His decision: stay in the draft. For Bowen, there was no other good option.

"The NCAA has informed the University of South Carolina that, at a minimum, Brian Bowen will be ineligible for the 2018-19 basketball season based on alleged benefits received by the Bowen family at his former institution and his requirement to serve a transfer year in residence at South Carolina," the school said in a statement. "After receiving this information, the University continued to work closely with Bowen and his attorney, Jason Setchen, over the course of the last few days to provide him with as much information as possible regarding the eligibility ruling so that he could make an informed decision on his NBA draft status. After taking time to assess the information provided by the NCAA, Bowen has decided to remain in the 2018 NBA draft, he announced on Wednesday."

In the release, Bowen said, “I’m completely devastated by the NCAA’s ruling. All I ever wanted to do was continue my education and play college basketball."

Bowen, once a recruiting target of N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried, committed to Louisville and coach Rick Pitino last June, about four months before the FBI announced an investigation into fraud, bribery and corruption in college basketball that involved adidas, agents and schools such as Miami and Louisville. Ten people were arrested, including four college assistant basketball coaches.

Through information in the FBI's documents, such as when he committed to Louisville, Bowen was identified as the player whose father, Brian Bowen Sr., was alleged to have agreed to accept $100,000 in exchange for the younger Bowen to go to Louisville, sign with adidas when he got to the NBA and retain the services of Christian Dawkins, who worked for ASM Sports agency. According to FBI documents, between May 2017 and September 2017, adidas representatives Jim Gatto and Merl Code, along with Dawkins, conspired to funnel that money from adidas to Bowen's father.

Brian Bowen Sr. allegedly received about $19,500 before the FBI's investigation was announced. Bowen and his father were not named in the FBI's indictment. Bowen Jr. has denied the allegations, and Bowen Sr. is cooperating with the investigation, his attorney, Tony Ricco, told ESPN in December.

"I was shocked," Bowen Jr. told ESPN in December. "I didn't believe it at all. ... They have to be lying. There's no way I'm involved in it."

Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were fired in September, part of the fallout from the school's alleged involvement in the scandal.

Bowen was suspended indefinitely from Louisville and was told by the university in November that he would never play for the Cardinals. He transferred to South Carolina in January. Had Bowen been deemed eligible by the NCAA, under transfer rules he would have to sit out a year before he's eligible to play for the Gamecocks.

In February, Yahoo released a report that contained August 2016 emails that allegedly link Bowen and his father to agents. One email that specifically mentions Bowen is to ASM Sports agent Andy Miller from Dawkins, Miller's associate and one of the 10 arrested in the FBI's investigation.

“(Sports agent Andrew) Vye if you have to make a call to these guys the kid that they want from me is Brian Bowen. Joe (Pasternak) is telling me the kids dad wants him in school for 2 years, not sure how true that is,” Dawkins wrote in the email. “My kid isn’t going to decide anytime soon, so I would act quickly and try to make a relationship with the kids dad now. Arizona will pretty much do whatever we ask of them right now, until my kid decides on a school.”

Gottfried, the former N.C. State coach who heavily recruited Bowen, was fired in February 2017, and Bowen's interest in the school waned after that. N.C. State in April was named in an FBI superseding indictment that alleges that an unnamed coach at the school agreed to deliver $40,000 from an adidas representative, believed to be Dennis Smith Sr., the father of former N.C. State guard, Dennis Smith Jr., in exchange for the younger Smith to play at N.C. State. Neither Smith Sr. or Smith Jr. are named in the report.

Meanwhile, as the NBA draft withdrawal deadline drew near, Bowen, after a path that went from being recruited by N.C. State to signing with Louisville to transferring to South Carolina, was caught in the middle, waiting for the NCAA to rule on whether or not he could play college basketball.

“It’s not fair,” sports attorney Don Jackson, who does not represent Bowen, said Tuesday. “The problem with the system is that a rational way of resolving this would be for the NCAA to make a decision based on the currently available information. The NCAA’s rationale for delaying this is the fact that the available information is limited. The reality of the matter is with the ongoing criminal investigation, this could be going on for a year or conceivably several years.

“Putting this family in a situation where they have to make a decision (on the NBA) based on the NCAA’s inaction is fundamentally unfair. But the NCAA has a history of this.”

The NCAA did not respond Wednesday to an inquiry for comment.

Setchen, Bowen's Miami-based attorney, called the situation "mind-boggling" in a tweet this past weekend.

Bowen's situation could be another cautionary tale for other athletes, Jackson said, when it comes to gaining NCAA eligibility..

Nassir Little, a 5-star forward from Orlando, Fla., who signed in November with North Carolina, also was swept up in the FBI's investigation amid allegations of payments to his family in exchange for him to attend Miami, an adidas school. Little and his father denied any involvement in the scheme, and UNC basketball coach Roy Williams has said he trusts what Little and his father have said based on their sworn affidavit, in which they denied any school offered them money for their commitment and that they did not take money.

Little, who like Bowen was not named in the FBI indictments, still must go through the normal NCAA eligibility process.

Jackson, while not speaking specifically about Little, said, “There are cases that drag into the regular season, where a young man misses six, eight, 10 games and then is cleared. In effect, that’s a de facto suspension. They serve a punishment without having been found ‘guilty’ of any NCAA violations.”

Jackson, whose firm The Sports Group is based in Montgomery, Ala., has represented hundreds of athletes in eligibility and amateurism matters, including former N.C. State basketball players Omer Yurtseven, C.J. Leslie and Rodney Purvis.

It still rankles Jackson that Yurtseven, after signing with the Wolfpack, had to wait five months for an eligibility ruling from the NCAA. The NCAA ruled the 7-foot center from Turkey — who has since transferred from N.C. State to Georgetown — was eligible to play but had to sit out the first nine games of his freshman year and pay $1,000 to a charity of his choice for receiving compensation for expenses from a European professional team.

“He should have never been suspended, not for a single game, and that was an investigation that should not have taken that long,” Jackson said. “And it’s not just Omer. It’s all of these cases that involve high-level players.”

Bowen, who's eligible for the NBA draft because he's 19, attended the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago earlier this month, telling reporters at the combine he was staying focused and not offering an opinion on the NCAA process or NCAA’s system of ruling on eligibility cases.

“The system has been like that for so many years.” Bowen said. “You have to use it as a learning experience, use it as motivation and have a chip on my shoulder.”

Bowen has had several workouts with NBA teams, but there are no guarantees he will be selected in the June 21 draft and several mock drafts have him not being taken. He has not competed against high-level competition since the Jordan Brand Classic in April 2017 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Bowen said in Chicago he would like to stay at South Carolina and play basketball.

ESPN’s Jay Bilas was at the combine and was another who called Bowen’s situation unfair.

“I know a lot of people want to see him stay (in college),” Bilas told The State. “But it’s his decision. To me, if I’m in his seat, there’s uncertainty in the college space. And I could go back for all the right reasons and still have to sit. Or do I just move on and leave all that mess behind me, when I have no certainty whether it’s going to be figured out in my favor or not?”

When Louisville landed Bowen last summer, Pitino said he was surprised.

“In my 40 years of coaching this is the luckiest I’ve been,” Pitino said then of the late signing of the 5-star recruit.

Bowen has said he was not aware of any payment made to his father, a lack of knowledge that Jackson said was a mitigating factor the NCAA should consider in its ruling on Bowen.

"The NCAA has an obligation to move this young man's case along and allow him to make an informed decision about his basketball future," Jackson said.

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