On Thursday, cooperating witness T.J. Gassnola, a former Adidas consultant, detailed the payments he made to families and friends of current and former college basketball players, including two affiliated with the University of Kansas.
Testifying in the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse in New York City, Gassnola claimed he paid $2,000 to Fenny Falmagne, the guardian of KU’s Silvio De Sousa, and was scheduled to pay him another $20,000 when the case blew up. Gassnola also testified that a University of Maryland booster had already paid Falmagne $60,000. Falmagne had told the Kansas City Star last April that he and De Sousa “never took money from anyone.”
A 6′ 9″ forward from Angola, De Sousa sat out the first semester of his freshman year at KU as he was still in high school. In the second semester of his freshman season, De Sousa averaged 4.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
The case against KU recruit Bill Preston was more damning for everyone involved. According to the Star, Gassnola testified that he paid Preston’s mother and her partner $89,000. A text message shown in court from Gassnola to the mom read “money for u.” This payment in September 2017 for $4,000 followed Preston’s commitment to KU months earlier.
Preston was a problem for KU from day one. He was benched for KU’s first game last year after skipping class and missing curfew. Before game two, he crashed a car he was driving. KU coach Bill Self benched Preston until he could be sure Preston had legitimate title to the car.
During the ensuing investigation KU discovered that Gassnola had been paying Preston’s mom and turned its findings over to the NCAA. Preston never did play a single game for KU. In January 2018, he signed a deal with a team in Bosnia, ending his college career.
Gassnola was reportedly “adamant” that neither Self nor his coaches knew about the side money being paid to the players. He testified, however, that he did “talk recruits with Bill Self and staff.” Falmagne likewise denied ever receiving or being offered money by Self.
KU officials are guardedly optimistic about the future of their program. Said a university spokesperson, “The prosecution has not suggested any wrongdoing by the university or its coaches. We will continue to cooperate as requested throughout the trial.”
During his 15 years at KU, Self has led the team to an extraordinary 14 Big 12 regular season titles, the last 12 in a row. He has arguably been the most successful coach in the country for that stretch.
To earn his $7 million-plus salary and maintain that level of supremacy, Self has little choice but to recruit players who have no interest in school and deal with Adidas execs who have little interest in sneakers.