Though a Kansas assistant coach allegedly discussed financial requests of the family of Zion Williamson during a phone call with one of the defendants in the Adidas college basketball corruption trial, Duke officials said Wednesday they are confident Williamson’s eligibility wasn’t compromised.
The 18-year-old Williamson, a 6-7 forward from Spartanburg, S.C., rated among the top five players in the 2018 recruiting class, committed to Duke last Jan. 20 and signed his national letter of intent on April 20.
As one of the top players in the class, Williamson was the subject of a deep examination by the NCAA Clearinghouse to ensure he was eligible to play in college according to academic and amateurism standards.
Duke freshman R.J. Barrett and Cameron Reddish, rated as the top two players in the class, went through a similar background check the same way Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter did in 2017 before their lone season with the Blue Devils.
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“All Duke student-athletes are subject to a thorough review to ensure their eligibility,” Duke athletic director Kevin White said in a statement emailed to The News & Observer.
“In men’s basketball, for the past several summers, Duke compliance officials, top recruits and their families have engaged in and cooperated fully with the NCAA Eligibility Center’s enhanced amateurism certification process. Duke works closely with the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference on all compliance and eligibility matters. As we have stated in the past, we have an uncompromising commitment to compliance in athletics.”
Williamson’s eligibility came into question on Tuesday in connection with the trial of three men on federal conspiracy and fraud charges as part of the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball.
Federal basketball trial
The lawyer for Merl Code, a former Adidas employee and one of three men on trial in New York, attempted unsuccessfully to enter into evidence the contents of a phone call between Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend and Code.
Attorney Mark C. Moore told Judge Lewis 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.’
“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.”
If such promises were made to Williamson’s family at their request to secure his signature on a national letter of intent, the NCAA could rule him ineligible under amateurism standards.
Attempts to reach Lee Anderson, Zion Williamson’s stepfather, were unsuccessful on Wednesday. Anderson coached S.C. Supreme, the Adidas-sponsored summer-league team Williamson played for in 2017.
Kansas was heavily involved in Williamson’s recruitment, along with Kentucky, Clemson, North Carolina, South Carolina and Duke.
Krzyzewski, Williams meetings
On Sept. 28, 2017, a few days after the FBI’s investigation became public, Anderson told Spartanburg television station WSPA “no one from Adidas has approached Zion or his family.”
“If anyone approached the family without Zion’s best interests in mind we would simply walk away,” Anderson said, according to WSPA. “No one outside of the immediate family will have any say or sway on Zion’s decision on where he’ll go to school.”
Townsend and Kansas head coach Bill Self had an in-home visit with Williamson and his family on Sept. 12, 2017. That same week, Kentucky coach John Calipari, UCLA coach Steve Alford and South Carolina coach Frank Martin also met with Williamson.
Williamson made an official visit to Kansas on Sept. 30, 2017 and followed that up with official visits to Kentucky on Oct. 13, Duke on Oct. 20 and UNC on Oct. 27.
On Nov. 1, Williamson had separate meetings with Self, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and UNC coach Roy Williams.
He met with Williams again on Nov. 14 and with Krzyzewski on Jan. 16, four days before he made his commitment to Duke.
Krzyzewski on Monday referred to the basketball corruption investigation as a “blip”
Williams 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.