NCAA Bribery Trial: Witness says Pitino ‘had no knowledge’ of Bowen payments

T.J. Gassnola, a ‘bag man’ for Adidas, testifies about UofL, Arizona, Kansas recruitments of several top players

NCAA Bribery Trial: Witness says Pitino ‘had no knowledge’ of Bowen payments
Rick Pitino didn't know about any cash payments allegedly paid by assistant coach Kenny Johnson to a recruit's father, according to trial testimony reported by basketball writer Dan Wetzel. (Source: John P. Wise)

(WAVE) - A key witness took the stand in the closely-watched NCAA bribery trial Thursday, testifying that Rick Pitino did not know about an alleged $100,000 payout to a recruit’s family.

T.J. Gassnola, a coach and consultant for apparel giant Adidas, and a man described by college basketball writer Dan Wetzel as a “bag man,” testified that the disgraced UofL basketball coach didn’t know about any payments to Brian Bowen Sr., the father of the prized recruit at the center of the scandal.

Brian Bowen Jr. eventually signed with UofL in June 2017, but was suspended from school shortly after the FBI announced its far-reaching investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball three months later. The scandal led to the terminations of both Pitino, the Hall of Fame coach, as well as his boss, UofL athletic director Tom Jurich.

“Louisville coach Rick Pitino had no knowledge of payments to Brian Bowen Sr. Did think asst Kenny Johnson did know. Christian Dawkins said Johnson didn’t,” Gassnola said in his testimony, according to Wetzel’s Twitter timeline.

(Story continues below the tweets)

Johnson is the former UofL assistant whom Bowen Sr. testified once gave him $1,300 in cash in front of the Galt House hotel in downtown Louisville, where Bowen Sr. was living in a $2,300-a-month rental unit at the time.

Dawkins, an agent, is one of three people currently on trial in New York, along with Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code.

Wetzel reported Wednesday that a wiretapped phone conversation between Code and Dawkins revealed a contradiction of Gassnola’s testimony. Below is an excerpt from Wetzel’s column Wednesday.

“He does know something,” Code is heard saying on wiretap when discussing Pitino with Dawkins. “He doesn’t know everything ... plausible deniability.”

Wetzel also reported that text messages and wiretapped phone calls “between Bowen and Dawkins reveal that Dawkins (said), and Bowen believed, that Johnson would provide $2,000 a month in cash to help pay for Bowen Sr.'s apartment in Louisville.”

Anyone paying attention to the chronology of events could make the connection between the June 2017 announcement of NCAA penalties for Louisville following its Strippergate scandal, and the clandestine cash transfer from Johnson to Bowen in front of the Galt House two months later. Such blatant disregard for NCAA rules could subject UofL to the NCAA’s death penalty, a nearly end-of-days type of sanction handed down only once before.

Louisville isn’t the only high-profile program implicated in the scandal. Among others, Pac-12 powerhouse Arizona is alleged to have paid cash to the family of one-and-done star Deandre Ayton, who was drafted No. 1 in June by the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. Kansas is under the microscope for its recruitment of Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa and their families' alleged connections to Gassnola and Adidas.

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