The recruitment of Zion Williamson by Duke, North Carolina and Clemson was a hot topic Thursday in the federal college basketball bribery trial in New York, and Marvin Bagley III’s name came up as well, but there was no evidence provided that Williamson or Bagley or their families received any improper benefits.
In Thursday’s proceedings, a Clemson assistant coach discusses potential payments to Williamson, the projected No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft, and a former Southern California assistant coach discusses potential payments to Bagley, the No. 2 pick in 2017. Both players ended up attending Duke.
On an FBI videotape shown to the jury recorded in a Las Vegas hotel room in July 2017, Clemson assistant coach Steve Smith is shown discussing the recruitment of the 6-foot-7 Williamson, a South Carolina native. Smith is talking on the videotape to would-be agent Christian Dawkins, one of the bribery defendants who was already convicted of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud last October, and Jeff D’Angelo, an undercover FBI agent.
“Steve had just had a meeting with Zion Williamson’s stepfather,” testified government witness Marty Blazer, a financial advisor facing a maximum of 67 years in prison on various federal charges. “Steve was recruiting Zion. Steve was going to try and find out what Zion’s family needed.”
No specific dollar amounts were mentioned, but the implication was that Dawkins and Blazer would offer financial assistance to Williamson’s family via Smith to get him to go to Clemson. On the video, Smith goes on to brag about his relationship with Williamson’s family and his proximity to the recruitment.
“Zion’s mom and family is originally from my neighboring hometown,” Smith said on the tape. He then said he is recruiting Williamson along with heavyweights Duke and North Carolina. “It’s like me, Roy Williams, Krzyzewski” and a coach identified by an unintelligible nickname.
Smith was also recorded saying he visited the Williamson house many times, but when he took Clemson head coach Brad Brownell on a visit to the house, Smith had to pretend that he did not know where Williamson’s house was.
“I finally take my boss over there to do an (expletive) in-home so I’ve got (to act) like I’ve never been there,” Smith says on the tape.
At this point, Dawkins, on the videotape, says Williamson’s recruiting is “gonna be crazy. Duke is gonna have their resources. UNC is UNC. Kentucky, they have their resources.”
“If (it) comes to down (it) … we’ll be able to make sure everything’s good for the parent and everything like that,” Dawkins said.
Smith is not shown on the videotape receiving any cash and Blazer testified he was among a handful of coaches not paid by Dawkins to funnel players to them as clients even though Smith was involved for Williamson
“Christian had determined that they wouldn’t be paid at that time,” Blazer testified. “Those coaches and their programs weren’t at that elite level where they had players coming through like an Arizona or a Creighton. … They just didn’t have any good players at the time.”
Three assistant coaches were shown on FBI videotapes receiving cash in the Las Vegas hotel room: former TCU assistant Corey Barker received $6,000, former Creighton assistant Preston Murphy received $6,000 and former USC assistant Tony Bland received $13,000, which he claimed he needed for the recruitment of Bagley.
“He wasn’t going to go to UCLA and he wasn’t going to go to Duke,” Blazer testified Bland had told them. “Tony was very confident that he had Marvin locked in with USC.”
Blazer said Bland told him, “I need you guys on campus the minute he signs and we’ll figure out what he needs when he gets there.”
Bland would then steer Bagley toward Dawkins and Blazer as a client, prosecutors have alleged.
“If he’s at USC you can get him,” Bland said. Blazer testified, “I understood that to mean, Tony had to pay players he was recruiting.”
Bagley ultimately chose Duke over USC and UCLA in August 2017 and then reclassified to enroll at Duke.
Earlier in the day, in a separate videotape shown to the jury from June 2017, defendant Merl Code, a former Adidas consultant sentenced to six months in prison after being convicted of wire fraud in the first basketball bribery trial, accused Duke and North Carolina of paying players as well.