Several high-profile college basketball programs likely are keeping a close eye on the next moves from lawyer Michael Avenatti, charged Monday with trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike.
Federal prosecutors in California and New York allege that Avenatti threatened to expose misconduct by Nike employees regarding NCAA rules violations involving a Nike-sponsored AAU team.
Monday’s charges came less than an hour after Avenatti tweeted: “This criminal conduct reaches the highest levels of Nike and involves some of the biggest names in college basketball.”
After being released on a $300,000 bond, he resumed attacks on Twitter on Tuesday, mentioning two players by name — former Arizona center Deandre Ayton and currently injured Oregon big man Bol Bol — as having received money from Nike while they were recruits.
The federal complaint against Avenatti said that the lawyer’s client “had a sponsorship agreement with Nike pursuant to which Nike paid the AAU program approximately $72,000 annually.”
Sources told ESPN that the client is Gary Franklin, coach of the California Supreme program in Los Angeles.
Franklin has coached several current NBA players, including 2018 No. 1 pick Ayton, De’Anthony Melton (USC), Solomon Hill (Arizona) and Aaron Holiday (UCLA). Other alums from the California Supreme include Bol, who will enter the draft after his freshman season was cut short due to a foot injury, and UCLA’s Shareef O’Neal, the son of Shaquille O’Neal.
A U.S. attorney’s office spokesperson told ESPN that Avenatti’s allegations about Nike’s possible involvement in the college basketball recruiting scandal are being looked at. “Our investigation is continuing,” the spokesperson said.
Avenatti’s claims of NCAA violations come while Nike is wrapped up in an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball involving bribery, financial advisors and major apparel sponsors such as Nike and Adidas.
Four former assistant coaches — Auburn’s Chuck Person, Southern California’s Tony Bland, Arizona’s Emanuel “Book” Richardson and Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans — have pleaded guilty to crimes uncovered in the investigation and are awaiting sentencing.
While awaiting other potential claims by Avenatti, the college basketball world is bracing for the next federal basketball corruption trial, set to begin April 22. Arizona coach Sean Miller and LSU coach Will Wade reportedly have received subpoenas to testify.
LSU recently suspended Wade after reports that he was heard talking on a federal wiretap to Christian Dawkins, a middleman for agents, about an illegal payment to a recruit. Dawkins was found guilty of felony fraud charges last fall.
Dawkins, Adidas director of global marketing James Gatto and Adidas consultant and basketball organizer Merl Code were found guilty on wire fraud and conspiracy charges in October. They are defendants in next month’s trial, facing bribery charges relating to the payment of coaches.
—Field Level Media