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Black coaches lost everything after the FBI college hoops case that ruined their careers and then fizzled




NEW YORK (AP) – Book Richardson doesn’t sleep much after 5:30 a.m. anymore.

It was about seven years ago that FBI agents knocked on his door, burst in, handcuffed him and dragged him away while his 16-year-old son, EJ, watched helplessly.

“Everyone has looked at me differently since then,” a former University of Arizona assistant coach told the Associated Press of his arrest as a part of a sweep to scrub up the situation in college basketball. “And I don’t go back to sleep when I see the clock say that time.”

He is one in all 4 assistant coaches – together with a bunch of six agents, their financial backers and shoe company representatives – who were arrested as a part of a 2017 federal investigation aimed toward rooting out an entrenched system of unofficial payments to players and their players. families, which was against NCAA rules at the time.

All 4 assistants – Richardson, Lamont Evans, Tony Bland and Chuck Person – are black. Of the 10 men arrested, just one was white.

“Low-hanging fruit,” Richardson, 51, said when asked why black men bore the brunt of the punishment. “Who do you see there all the time? Black assistants. Who builds relationships? Black assistants.

Several coaches and others told the AP it should not be a surprise that black men were the losers, given the racial disparities by which careers in sports are sometimes structured.

An AP evaluation of colleges in the six largest basketball conferences found that the variety of Black assistant coaches increased from 51% to 59% from 2014 to 2023. However, black men only hold about 30% of head coaching positions.

Ahead of this week’s Final Four, all of the arrested assistants are banned from the NCAA, while the agents and shoe salespeople have disappeared and their contacts in the college world have disappeared.

“I very rarely talk to some people at the university because they find me toxic,” said Merl Code, a black former Nike and Adidas representative who served 5 1/2 months in prison for convictions in the case.

Meanwhile, most of the head coaches Richardson and others have worked with are white and still work in college basketball.

Convicted criminals

Richardson spent 90 days in prison and says he now wears a “scarlet F” – standing for felon. The NCAA banned him from college for 10 years. Evans was sentenced to 3 months in prison and given a 10-year ban; the other two arrested assistants weren’t sentenced to prison but were banned from practicing their career by the NCAA.

Some say it’s encouraging that black men now hold more assistant coaching positions than in 2014. Others consider that while opportunities for African Americans have increased, they’re still lower-paid and higher-risk positions in the “talent acquisition” space. an element of the game rife with turnovers and shady deals that landed Richardson and others in jail.

“Obviously, if we knew exactly how to fix this, maybe we would have done it by now,” said longtime Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton, who’s black. “They were talking about it when I started training in 1971.”

Code, who lives in Greenville, South Carolina, and continues to be attempting to put his life back together, said the conditions in college basketball are just like those in the United States. In his recently published book “Black Market,” he notes that his alma mater, athletic powerhouse Clemson, was just like many large Southern universities, built on former plantation lands farmed by slaves for a long time.

“It’s not a difficult scenario to implement,” Code said. “This is simply society in America as we see it. And we as people of color are going to see it very differently than someone white.”

Shaping life

Richardson currently runs the boys basketball program for the New York Gauchos, a esteemed basketball training ground situated in a gymnasium near the 149th St-Grand Concourse subway station in the Bronx.

Coach Richardson talks to his players, the New York Gauchos, in the Gaucho Gym locker room. (Photo: Peter K. Afriyie/AP)

Although he claims he earned “2-3 hundred thousand dollars a year” in Arizona, he currently earns about $3,000 a month. He shapes the lives of the gauchos in much the same way he did as a college assistant – giving them everything from advice to tough like to highschool and college recommendations. Most of the players he works with are black. One of them recently agreed to play at Georgia Tech — a game made possible partly due to Richardson’s connections.

Monique Hibbert, whose son is one in all the eighth-graders Richardson coaches, said the coach gathered parents to inform them why he was sent to prison. “He said, ‘take it or leave it,’ and I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ Every day,” Hibbert said.

In some ways, Richardson’s job — constructing relationships — hasn’t modified much since seven years ago, when he was a top assistant to teach Sean Miller at the highly-rated Arizona program. (Miller, who’s white, was fired amid the scandal but now serves as head coach at Xavier.)

For a long time, college recruiting has been about relationships, starting with shoe company representatives who discover talented players as early as middle school. They reach out to college assistant coaches who stay close, hoping to sign players the shoe guys know. There are also agents who try to achieve influence with all parties in the hope that they’ll play a very important role in the motion if the player turns skilled.

At the heart of all of it is the silent and, in keeping with prosecutors, illegal flow of cash to players and their families, who often come from poor backgrounds.

“Some of these boys have disabled parents. Some people have sick grandmothers who can’t afford medicines,” said Code, who makes no apologies for using shoe company money to help families. “These are young men and women who are exposed to real-world situations to deal with at a young age, and they use their athletic abilities to help their families through their struggles.”

Manual unraveled

When the charges against Richardson, Code and the rest were announced, the FBI’s deputy director boldly announced, “We have your manual.” The arrests got here after an undercover operation that lured the defendants to meetings in hotel suites and, in a single case, to a yacht, where they took envelopes of money.

One of the defendants, Christian Dawkins, who’s black, was sentenced to 18 months in prison. In a documentary about the case, “The Scheme,” Dawkins, who worked as an agent, uses a wiretap to clarify the risks assistant coaches take when recruiting.

“These guys have worked their whole lives to get to this point,” Dawkins tells an undercover FBI agent. “And if something goes wrong, and it’s not a race issue, but especially a guy who’s a Black assistant coach, if one (expletive) thing happens to you, you’ll never coach again and that’s the bottom line.”

The same thing happened to Richardson, who was jailed and banned by the NCAA after pleading guilty to bribery for accepting $20,000 from Dawkins and his associate in exchange for guiding the Arizona players on their way.

Richardson admits that he used a few of the money to go to Spain together with his now ex-wife Erin. But he said most of that money went to pay for a highschool recruit and his family to travel to Tucson to observe “Midnight Madness,” a celebration marking the opening night of college basketball practice. The player was already committed to Arizona.

“It wasn’t like I was buying a player,” Richardson said. “What I meant was, now that you’ve made a monster out of me, damn it, I’m trying to get him back to campus. So I just say, “Let’s use some common sense.” I know everything I do may not be traditional, but come on.”

Code ended up in prison because his boss at Adidas told him to present $25,000 to the family of a black player who was about to sign with Louisville, which has a contract with the shoe company. The payment made the player ineligible under NCAA rules. Code’s crime was that he defrauded Louisville of a scholarship wasted on a player by contributing money, making him ineligible to play.

“Let’s talk about the truth and what really happened,” Code said. “Who allowed this? How can I defraud a university that has a $160 million connection to the company I work for?”

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Louisville ultimately fired head coach Rick Pitino. Unlike Code, Pitino, who’s white, was never charged and the NCAA cleared him of wrongdoing. He is currently a coach at St. John’s.

“There are people who attack and hurt people and then they go in and out of jail the next day,” Pitino said. “And then you take the assistant coaches and lock up the Adidas guy and put him in jail for it? This is probably the most hypocritical thing I have ever seen.”

What has really modified?

Richardson now lives on the fringes of an industry that has indeed undergone seismic change, though not in the way the FBI thought.

New state laws and court rulings over the past three years have ushered in the so-called “NIL” era in college sports – for name, image and likeness compensation agreements for athletes. Players can now benefit from sponsorship deals starting in highschool.

Richardson argues that NIL should stand for “It’s Legal Now” – a nod to the harsh reality that most of the hidden payments for which he was convicted can now be made legally.

The coach still dreams of returning to college at some point, though he’s well aware that when his ban ends, “I’ll be 60 years old, no one will hire me.”

Harsh realities

Among the questions Richardson asks himself as he wakes up before sunrise is: If he and the others broke NCAA rules, does that mean additionally they broke the law? And what really modified in consequence of those arrests?

Both the U.S. attorney’s office, which prosecuted the case, and the NCAA declined to comment to the AP on these or some other questions on the case.

“I was able to recover,” said Will Wade, a white head coach who lost his job at LSU over the case but was hired at McNeese State in Louisiana and led the school to this 12 months’s NCAA Tournament. “There were many people who could not recover. I think it ruined a lot of people’s lives for a very trivial reason.”

Even coaches who weren’t involved in the scandal saw what was occurring.

“We are not colorblind,” said Marquette coach Shaka Smart, who’s black. “I became friends with some of these guys.”

Miami assistant Bill Courtney, who’s black, admitted that the arrests can have been for reasons aside from race.

“But as a Black assistant coach at that time, it was very difficult for me to experience an event like that,” he said.

From the vantage point of his windowless office in the Bronx, Richardson involves his own conclusions.

“Truth be told, out of 10 people arrested, nine of them were my shadow in a way,” he said. “And now none of us are coaches, which is something we were quite good at. And we weren’t doing well because we cheated. We were good at what we did.”

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