University of Kansas basketball fans are not thinking about the ongoing federal trial of Adidas executives in New York. They are thinking about getting tickets to see their beloved #1 ranked Jayhawks in Lawrence.
For KU, being ranked first in the nation is not all that unusual. During his 15 years at KU, Coach Bill Self has led the team to an extraordinary fourteen Big 12 regular season titles, the last twelve in a row. He has arguably been the most successful coach in the country for that stretch.
Self’s success protects him from criticism in ways that other state employees can barely imagine. His $7 million a year salary protects from the kind of petty graft lesser coaches might be tempted by. His salary and his past success do, however, put a great deal of pressure on Self to succeed at a very high level.
An ESPN story posted late Monday, headlined “Texts show Kansas coaches knew of Adidas role in Silvio De Sousa’s recruitment,” should inspire KU officials to ask Self some serious questions about his relationship with Adidas and the very future of the program.
These texts surfaced in the wire fraud trial of two Adidas executives and an NBA agent’s runner accused of funneling money from Adidas to the families and sponsors of players recruited by Kansas, Louisville, Miami and NC State.
A 6′ 9″ forward from Angola, De Sousa sat out the first semester of the 2017-2018 season at KU as he was still in high school. In the second semester, De Sousa averaged 4.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. He caught the nation’s attention in his seven-point, seven-rebound performance in 10 minutes of play in KU’s Final Four loss to Villanova. He has a ton of potential.
Testifying in New York City last week, former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola claimed he paid $2,000 to Fenny Falmagne, De Sousa’s Angolan guardian, and was scheduled to pay him another $20,000 to help him “get out from under” a pay-for-play scheme at the University of Maryland when the case blew up. “I don’t remember the words, but Fenny told me he was under this umbrella from the [Maryland] booster,” Gassnola testified on Monday. A cooperating witness, Gassnola pled guilty in April to wire fraud.
The defense attorneys presented a series of texts in court. They do not present KU basketball in its best light. On Aug. 9, 2017, KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend texted Gassnola: “Coach Self just talked to Fenny let me know how it goes.”
Shortly afterwards that same day, Gassnola texted Self: “Hall of Fame. When you have 5 minutes and your [sic] alone call me.”
When Self failed to respond, Gassnola texted him again later that evening: “I talked with Fenny.”
“We good,” Self texted back.
“Always,” Gassnola answered. “That’s [sic] was light work. Ball is in his court now.”
That same night, according to cell phone records, Self and Gassnola spoke for five minutes. Gassnola testified he does not remember the content of that conversation.
On Aug. 26, 2017, Townsend forwarded Gassnola a text he claimed to have received from De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne: “Coach has been on the phone with Angola. We are good to go. We will commit tomorrow.” On August 30, De Sousa committed to KU.
This announcement came as a shock to Maryland fans given De Sousa’s prior commitment to Maryland. “In surprise, Maryland forward target Silvio De Sousa commits to Kansas,” read a Baltimore Sun headline on August 30.
On September 22, KU announced a 12-year, $191 million contract extension with Adidas. Three days earlier, Gassnola thanked Self in a text for helping seal the deal. Self texted back: “I’m happy with Adidas. Just got to get a couple real guys.”
Gassnola responded: “In my mind, it’s KU, bill self. Everyone else fall into line. Too [expletive] bad. That’s what’s right for Adidas basketball.”
In their indictment of the Adidas execs, prosecutors took note of the chummy relationship between Adidas and KU: “In what media reports called a ‘surprise’ decision,’ the student-athlete announced he would not attend the school sponsored by the rival apparel company but would instead enroll at the University of Kansas.”
That said, Gassnola testified Monday that he did not believe Self and Townsend were aware that “he was facilitating money from the sneaker company to the parents or guardians of high-profile recruits to ensure they signed with the Jayhawks.”
KU now finds itself in something of a bind. To compete at its perennial top-10 level, the program has to deal with sleazy middlemen like those at Adidas who routinely corrupt coaches, players and parents alike.
The alternative is to take a step down. Fans won’t like that a bit.