Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend discussed financial requests of the family of Duke freshman Zion Williamson during a phone call with one of the defendants in the Adidas college basketball corruption trial, according to a defense argument made in court Tuesday.
Mark C. Moore, an attorney for former Adidas employee Merl Code, tried unsuccessfully to get the phone call entered into evidence but discussed it with Judge Lewis A. Kaplan while the jury was not present in the federal courtroom in Manhattan.
The defense contends that no players, including Williamson himself, were directly involved in making financial requests.
Moore told Kaplan: “In this call between Mr. Code and Mr. Townsend, Mr. Townsend says ... ‘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.’
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“And then Mr. Code says: ‘I know what he’s asking for....He’s asking for opportunities from an occupational prospective. He’s asking for money in the pocket. And he’s asking for housing for him and the family.’
“And they go on to talk. And Mr. Townsend says: ‘so, I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way. Because if that’s what it takes to get him for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.’”
Duke officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Williamson chose Duke over Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Clemson on Jan. 20. Nike sponsors all of those schools except Kansas, which is sponsored by Adidas. The 6-7, 285-pound wing from Spartanburg, S.C. is a projected Top 10 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Moore then told Kaplan of prior testimony by government witness Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola, a former Adidas consultant.
“Mr. Gassnola testified that he did not believe that Townsend knew anything about payment to players or coach (Bill) Self knew anything about payment to players,” Moore said, “and that wasn’t part of his understanding when he made payments to players in Kansas.
“Well, my client’s understanding is different. My client’s understanding is that the coaches want these payments to be done. This call references a discussion with Kurt Townsend at Kansas, which confirms my client’s belief.”
James Gatto, a former Adidas executive, Code and another defendant are accused of wire fraud conspiracy by paying the families of top basketball recruits, which would render them ineligible under NCAA rules and defraud the schools, including Kansas. The defense doesn’t contest payments were made, but is arguing the prosecution hasn’t proven that the universities were victims of the payment schemes.
Kansas coach Bill Self, when asked at last week’s basketball media day for comment about the federal trial, said: “No I don’t have any response. I can’t talk about that. I’m not meaning to be opaque about this at all. I just feel like … our stance is still the same. We’ll comment when the time is appropriate. The appropriate time is when this is done and that’ll certainly be the case. I’m not going to make comments day to day on what has been said because we’ll know obviously in the next couple weeks what actually this is all about.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on Monday referred to the basketball corruption investigation as a “blip”
“I think it’s minute. I think it’s a blip,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s not what’s happening. I heard Roy (Williams). When I heard what he said, I understand that. I’m not exposed to....We haven’t lost guys to cheating. I’m not aware of that. I haven’t paid attention to that because I haven’t been affected.”
Roy Williams, the UNC coach, last week said he was “dumbfounded” by the FBI’s findings in its investigation into corruption in college basketball. He also said apparel companies have never offered to recruit for him.
“That world that people are acting like it goes on all the time, it does not go on all the time,” Williams said. “That world that they are explaining out there, that world that’s on national news, I am not familiar with. Period.”
The Kansas City Star’s Jesse Newell and The News & Observer’s Steve Wiseman and Jonathan M. Alexander contributed to this report. Follow @AdamZagoria on Twitter.