Arizona’s men’s basketball program came under extreme scrutiny with potentially ruinous evidence and witness testimony in federal court on Monday.
You can’t help but wonder what the NCAA will think of, and do, with it whenever that organization gets to formally deciding on what can, should or will be done to Sean Miller’s program.
The second week of college basketball’s second trial on corruption and bribery kicked off with the continuation of direct testimony by cooperating witness Munish Sood, who bolstered video and audio evidence against defendants Christian Dawkins and Merl Code. The defense will eventually have its chance at fervent retaliation, but for now, the prosecution continues to build a big case with clear-cut evidence and accounts that college hoops coaches at major universities were obviously willing to take part in a pay-for-play scheme.
How this plays in the hands of the jury remains to be seen, but for college basketball and the NCAA, Monday was the latest flagrant reminder of how the machine has been grossly greased for so long.
Sood testified former Arizona assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson took $20,000 in bribes and was funneling players to Dawkins and his business partners. After seeing the video that backed Sood’s testimony, it’s no riddle why Richardson wasn’t in court on Monday as a defendant.
Testimony and evidence from Monday splattered across the sport. The spill finally got to LSU coach Will Wade, who was tagged to the proceedings. At one point, as Richardson is laying out how he understands recruiting in the SEC to work to the undercover agents and Sood (this in 2017), Richardson claims he was recently approached by Wade about a job opportunity. The two were talking because both were recruiting five-star prospect Naz Reid, who played this past season at LSU and is now off to the NBA.
Richardson says on the video that Wade “got $300,000” in place for a deal with Reid to go to LSU.
To which Richardson responds: “I said listen, s—, give me half that and I’ll make sure he goes there.”
Lamont Evans was portrayed to be a man whose allegiances went with the wind, including allegations he was accepting payments from NBA agent Seth Cohen, among others. There was video evidence of Bland meeting with an undercover agent, Dawkins and Sood on Aug. 31, 2017, and agreeing to funnel players and set up business relationships for Dawkins.
“We have a couple opportunities where you’ve got us a gold mine over here, so we’ve had this opportunity but it’s not been this clean,” Bland is caught saying on the video. “And from a guy that I’m really — that I trust.”
But the most detailed accounts came via Richardson’s own words — in surreptitious video retrieval, courtesy of the feds — and painted a picture of an Arizona program working beyond the boundaries, rolling into the gutters and operating at extreme-but-allegedly-common levels to get players. Richardson was to steer them to Dawkins and fortify a relationship that was already well-established and understood by the time Dawkins wanted to get his fledgling company, LOYD Inc., off the ground in the spring of 2017.
“Christian and I got really close over (former Arizona player) Solomon Hill maybe six years ago,” Richardson told two undercover agents, in addition to Sood and Sood’s assistant, on June 20, 2017, at a meeting in New York City.
Richardson was so comfortable sharing this, he took the meeting without Dawkins even in attendance.
“If I did not trust you, I would not be here,” Richardson tells the agents on the video. “And you know, everything we talk about stays here. So we, we’re very, very private about this stuff.”
For more than two hours, Sood’s testimony and the accompanying evidence from the government stripped bare plenty of what Richardson was doing on and off campus in 2017. Damaging quotes like, “Whatever you think someone’s telling you, tell them to show you in cash” are peppered throughout the evidence mounted against Richardson.
Sood testified Friday that he met Richardson at a lounge at the MGM in Las Vegas in the spring of 2017, and that the meeting was to reconnect on Richardson’s “access to, hopefully, some of his top players.” To this conversation, Sood testified, “I believe he was saying if we were helping him to recruit, he was going to deliver one or two players for us.”
Richardson knew the stakes from the outset, telling Sood on an April 24, 2017 phone call: “I’m gonna over-deliver and under-promise.”
Sood, 46, a longtime investment agent for affluent families and professional athletes, pleaded guilty to multiple federal felonies in this investigation. He is a cooperating witness for the government and faces a maximum prison sentence of 35 years and additional financial penalties, but gave up everything he knew in order to reduce his sentence significantly. He, but his testimony is looping in a college basketball blue blood in a much more problematic way — for Arizona — than Blazer’s four days on the stand did.
Sood testified Friday that when he met Richardson at Sood’s own offices in Princeton, New Jersey — along with an undercover agent — on July 20, 2017, Richardson took $15,000 and did so in order to boost Dawkins’ business enterprise and to use the money to land the commitment of then-recruit Jahvon Quinerly.
“I believe payment was for Emmanuel Richardson to recruit a specific player,” Sood said under oath.
Names of prominent Arizona players, and former Wildcat recruits, were referenced often during Sood’s testimony on Monday. That includes former Wildcat Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NBA Draft. Also invoked: Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier. Then there are the players who Arizona recruited, such as Quinerly and Reid.
Video of Richardson meeting with undercover agents, swapping stories and taking $5,000 is the first of two hits that ultimately led to Richardson being charged in the case. That’s when Richardson verbally agreed to be part of Dawkins’ scheme. In it, Richardson lays out how Dawkins will get Alkins in the mix so long as Dawkins makes a trip to Arizona’s campus at some point to establish contact and entrench himself with Alkins and his cousin.
“You’re gonna get Rawle,” Richardson says on the video. “That’s a fact.”
Later that day, Dawkins talked to Sood on the phone to discuss how the Richardson meeting went. It’s in that conversation that Dawkins levels a major rules violation/accusation against Arizona coach Sean Miller.
“It’s going to be more money than what what they, what Book said,” Dawkins says on the wiretapped call. “I mean, because I talk to Sean. Sean’s the one who fronted that deal. So it’s gonna be some money but I mean, we’ll figure it out.”
Two tapped calls from July 7, 2017, between Dawkins and Sood shed more light on the Richardson situation as it evolved into the summer recruiting period.
“I gotta talk to him about this s— with Book because Book needs to get some money up front to try to get this s— done for the recruit,” Dawkins tells Code, referring to Quinerly. “Book needs 15 grand, but what he’s saying is, that’s going close the deal for him.”
Thirteen days later, Richardson would accept the $15,000.
At that meeting, in Princeton, Richardson explains to an undercover officer the tricky logistics of how he is hoping to make this work and dealing with Quinerly’s mother.
“You gotta find a job,” he tells the agents of how he’s building the Quinerly recruitment. “This is what I’ll do. This is what I can do for you to put you in a situation to move to Tucson. … I don’t want the NCAA f—ing with us. You should take one or two more visits and then shut it down. And then as soon as you do that, you commit.”
When Richardson meets at Sood’s office with an undercover agent on July 20, 2017, the agent confirms $15,000 for three months worth of payments for Quinerly’s mother.
“We’re gonna do — gonna do 15 for three months, right?” the agent asks Richardson. “And that should help with the kids?”
“It better help with the kids,” Richardson replies, and says Quinerly’s mother was “good with me in terms of following the script.”
Quinerly committed to Arizona on Aug. 8, 2017, but de-committed after the federal investigation became public in September of that year. He played sparingly last season at Villanova and has since transferred out.
Richardson’s doings with Dawkins and company extended further, into late August, when Sood, an undercover agent and Dawkins met with Richardson — and then later that day with Alkins’ cousin — to establish a business relationship so Richardson could steer Alkins to Dawkins’ company.
“It made more sense to pay Emanuel Richardson a monthly retainer fee so we could get access to [those] players,” Sood said from the stand.
Dawkins, on wiretap, confirmed Richardson’s monthly allowance. Richardson went so far as to still fund players’ recruitments, even after being bankrolled by the undercover agents, as means to keep “skin in the game” on his end. He admits to pulling from his TIAA-CREF to fund players.
“You only give the elite level dudes like a Book four grand a month,” Dawkins told an undercover agent. “And that makes sense to give him four grand a month because he’s got the No. 1 pick, he’s got — every year they got a top-10 pick.”
Sood also testified they were meeting Richardson in an effort to meet with Ayton. During that meeting, caught on video, Richardson at one point alleges Ayton’s mother “is loyal to someone else” when discussing payment potential.
When the prospect of Ayton is broached, Sood makes sure to interject to Richardson: “Just remember what you said when we first saw you. You’re no longer giving suggestions. You’re telling them.”
This theme of not just guiding but outright instructing players where to go, who to like, who to talk to threads throughout this case and even connects to the first federal trial.
The FBI built this case in part because of what Dawkins would tell the undercover agents. Sood’s words to Richardson were an echo from a conversation Dawkins had months before with one of the agents, when he claimed of high-profile players: “Everybody gets paid, whether it’s me or another agent.”
All this, and still more that will be touched upon come Tuesday, will likely prove consequential to the NCAA. It’s hard to hear corroborated evidence on this level, to see the blatant cheating with one’s own eyes, and not think the NCAA’s burden to punish will be even higher than it was before.
“If anything happens, it’s their word against mine,” Richardson at one point told the undercover officers. “And when it’s cash, you know, I don’t know what they’re talking about.”