A new HBO documentary on the still-ongoing college basketball corruption scandal that has roiled the NCAA in recent years includes audio recordings of two of the coaches implicated in the scandal.
"The Scheme" centers around Christian Dawkins, who was convicted of bribing assistant college basketball coaches to direct players to join his sports management company. He was sentenced to two years in prison last year for his role in the scandal, according to ESPN, and is currently free pending his appeal.
Dawkins and his attorney make up a majority of the interview time in the roughly two-hour documentary, but the production also features new information in the form of audio recordings of conversations Dawkins had with two head coaches: Arizona's Sean Miller and Louisiana State University's Will Wade.
Wade and Miller are the only head coaches heard on tape in the documentary, and both have vehemently denied any wrongdoing. So what does these recordings reveal about the coaches and the allegation they paid players to sign with their respective colleges?
The calls from Miller presented in the documentary provide no hard evidence to help prove the allegation that he offered to pay $100,000 to ensure star freshman and future NBA draft pick Deandre Ayton signed with the University of Arizona.
The allegation is the central focus of the investigation into Miller and the FBI reportedly has wiretaps of Miller discussing such an arrangement, according to ESPN.
Any explicit conversation of payment is not present in the documentary's audio of Miller's conversations with Dawkins, and there is no audio referring Ayton.
The documentary's director Pat Kondelist said there is no recording of that conversation because Dawkins told him it never happened, according to a screenshot of a Twitter exchange between Kondelist and college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman obtained by SB Nation. However, there are recordings in the documentary that show that Miller and Dawkins were at least on friendly terms.
In one conversation, Dawkins is heard asking Miller if Arizona will get a top recruit (who eventually played for Wade at LSU).
"No. He's going to LSU. We're not even bringing him on a visit. He's not even visiting. That's all bulls--t. Like, I'm looking at our recruiting board, he's not even on it. I've never talked to the kid. All this f--king hype s--t on the phone, it's stupid. He just probably said, you know what, f--k you I don't want 75, I want a 120. I may go to Arizona. That's all that was," Miller is heard saying in the audio recording, according to a transcript from CBS Sports.
It does not appear that Miller is discussing compensation, though Dawkins contends in the documentary that compensation was a subtext of the conversations.
"I mean, from my interpretation, Sean maybe speaks a different language than me, but I'm pretty sure we could all agree that's [what] ... we was talking about what needed to happen to get it done," Dawkins said in the film, according to CBS Sports.
Miller declined to comment on the film when reached for comment by CBS Sports. Miller was briefly sidelined in 2018 after the ESPN report on his alleged conversation with Dawkins about Ayton, but was reinstated after missing just one game. He said he'd never paid any player or player's family to attend Arizona, Sports Illustrated reported at the time.
Miller is still the head coach of the University of Arizona men's basketball team. Although he has never been directly implicated, former Arizona assistant coach Emanuel "Book" Richardson ultimately pleaded guilty in a federal bribery case and was sentenced to three months in prison and two years of supervised release, according to Forbes.
Richardson admitted to accepting bribes to steer certain players to management companies like the one run by Dawkins, according to ESPN.
In contrast, Wade appears to explicitly discuss compensating players in his recorded conversations with Dawkins.
In a conversation transcribed by CBS Sports, Wade appears to discuss compensation for an unnamed player and making a "strong-ass offer" for another player.
DAWKINS: Well listen, I mean f--k, he could be playing for LSU or some s--t. He could have fifth-year eligibility and if he doesn't get drafted like Randolph Morris or some s--t like that.
WADE: We'll take that. We'll take it.
DAWKINS: I know you will. I know you will.
WADE: We could compensate him better than the rookie minimum.
DAWKINS (laughing): You probably right about that, too.
WADE: We'd give him more than the the D-League.
DAWKINS: Exactly. Exactly. God bless us all. God bless us all. So, what's the good word, though?
WADE: All right I was thinking last night on this Smart thing. Like, I'll be honest with you, I'm f--king tired of dealing with the thing. Like I'm just f--king sick of dealing with this s--t. What do you think, 'cause I went to him with a f--king strong-ass offer about a month ago. F--king strong. Now, the problem was, I know why he didn't take it now — it was f--king tilted toward the family a little bit. But I mean it was a f--king hell of a f--king offer. Like, hell of an offer. Especially for a kid who's going to be a two- or three-year kid. I've made deals for as good a players as him that were f--king a lot simpler than this."
The comments appear to match up with what was reported in a 2019 expose from Yahoo Sports on Wade's wiretapped conversations with Dawkins. The report also notes the conversation does not specifically mention what the "offer" is, or if the "offer" violates NCAA rules, or if Smart, the player referenced, was even aware of an "offer."
Although it isn't explicit, the conversation appears to be about Javonte Smart, who committed to play for LSU around the time the recordings are dating in summer 2017, according to the Advocate newspaper in Louisiana.
Wade was suspended in March 2019 after he declined to discuss the recordings with LSU officials, according to the Advocate. He was reinstated about a month later, according to USA Today.
"I completely understand that without my denying or explaining the media reports accusing me of wrongdoing LSU was left with no choice but to suspend me until I was willing and able to meet with them," Wade said at the time of his reinstatement, USA Today reported. "I look forward to re-joining the team right away."
Attempts to reach Wade by multiple outlets were not successful. He is still currently the head coach for the LSU men's basketball team.
"The Scheme" is available to stream on HBO's digital platforms.
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