The recruitment of NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr.
A report by ESPN on Friday alleged former N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried twice provided assistant coach Orlando Early envelopes with what Early believed to be cash payments for Dennis Smith Jr.’s family to secure his commitment to N.C. State.
ESPN’s report cites anonymous sources, who provided information included in confidential court filings on Feb. 12 as part of the federal government’s corruption case against former Adidas executive James Gatto.
Smith committed to N.C. State in 2015 and played one season for the Wolfpack before entering the NBA. He is now with the New York Knicks. N.C. State fired Gottfried in 2017, after the lone team with Smith as the star player struggled to a losing record. Gottfried is currently in his first season as head coach at Cal State-Northridge.
Gatto was sentenced to nine months in prison this past Tuesday.
According to the ESPN report, the confidential portion of a sentencing disclosure included statements by Early’s lawyer that the envelopes containing the cash were given to Shawn Farmer, Smith’s personal trainer, and ultimately were delivered to Dennis Smith Sr.
The information about Gottfried was redacted from the public version of the memorandum, ESPN reported.
N.C. State has cooperated with the federal government’s investigation, providing documents, phone records and testimony since receiving a subpoena in January 2018.
The university said Friday night it has no knowledge of Gottfried’s involvement in payments to Smith’s family.
“If such information exists, it has not been shared with the university,” NC State spokesman Fred Demarest said in an email Friday night.
Gottfried’s lawyer Scott Tompsett told ESPN that the information is “false and conflicts with the sworn testimony of the government’s lead witness in the trial last fall.”
“Specifically, at trial, T.J. Gassnola testified, under penalty of perjury, that he did not discuss the payment to Dennis Smith with anyone at N.C. State other than one assistant coach,” Tompsett told ESPN. “Thus, the statement being reported on as it refers to Mr. Gottfried is not corroborated by a single shred of evidence.”
During Gatto’s trial in October, Gassnola, a former Adidas consultant, testified that he provided $40,000 for Smith’s family to help ensure Smith’s commitment to N.C. State. Gassnola said he gave the money to Early with the understanding it would be forwarded to Smith’s family.
“In the fall of 2015, Orlando Early reached out to me that there was some issues surrounding Dennis and the people around him,” Gassnola testified, according to previous News & Observer reports. “There were certain things that were promised to the family, from who I don’t know, but there was a lot of minutiae around it, and he just seemed to be uncomfortable and he was having some issues with keeping that situation together.”
During his testimony, he described Farmer as a go-between for Adidas and the Smith family.
“I offered to bring him $40,000 to calm the situation,” Gassnola said. “Just make it easier, keep people happy.”
Friday night, ESPN reported the sentencing disclosure indicated Early believed the Smith family wanted payments totaling $100,000 or more.
Cal State-Northridge issued a statement on Saturday that called the ESPN report false and that it did its due diligence before it hired Gottfried in March 2018.
“As part of our hiring process, Coach Gottfried confirmed to CSUN that he had no involvement in, nor knowledge of, any impermissible payments provided to prospective student-athletes during his tenure as a head coach at previous institutions,” reads the official statement from CSUN athletics. “This affirmation is included in his employment documents and is a condition of employment.”
The sentences for Gatto, Merl Code, a former Adidas consultant, and Christian Dawkins, a runner for an agent, were issued in the U.S. Southern District Court of New York earlier this week but the story continues to unfold across college basketball.
LSU head coach Will Wade was suspended on Friday after it was reported that he was recorded on a wiretap discussing with Dawkins an “offer” to a recruit. Assistant coaches at Creighton and TCU were suspended this week for their respective connections to the FBI investigation.
N.C. State, Kansas and Louisville — three of the schools found by the federal court to have been defrauded by Gatto — have asked for restitution for their legal fees related to Gatto’s trial and for tuition expenses related to the recruits who were either paid or offered money by Gatto and/or Dawkins.
N.C. State chancellor Randy Woodson recently said an NCAA investigation into potential violations in the payments of Smith were on hold until the federal case was complete.