University of Miami basketball program under investigation for involvement in NCAA bribery scandal

Head coach Jim Larrañaga speaking at Miami basketball's media day in November of 2016. Larrañaga's lawyer says the seventh-year coach has no knowledge of the bribery. Photo credit: Josh White
TMH - Jim Larrañaga Photo
Head coach Jim Larrañaga speaking at Miami basketball's media day in November of 2016. Larrañaga's lawyer says the seventh-year coach has no knowledge of the bribery. Photo credit: Josh White

University of Miami President Julio Frenk confirmed that the school is officially under investigation for potential corruption under the NCAA laws.

In a message sent out Sept. 27, Frenk said the U.S. Department of Justice is currently probing Miami for possible involvement of one member of the coaching staff in the bribery of a high school basketball recruit.

“While we are alarmed and disappointed, we are steadfast in our belief that we must also act with the highest level of integrity and commitment to the pursuit of truth,” Frenk said. “To that end, we have pledged our full and complete cooperation with the Department of Justice probe as well as to the NCAA, with whom we will jointly review any relevant matters. The legal process and any NCAA joint review will likely take some time, so I urge patience for all who love our university.”

UM athletics finds itself in the midst of another scandal almost one year after sanctions were lifted from the 2011 Nevin Shapiro case involving impermissible benefits.

Miami’s basketball program is linked to one of 10 people arrested Sept. 26 on federal charges for bribing high school players.

James Gatto, the director of global sports marketing at Adidas, was arrested on charges of wire fraud and money laundering. According to court documents, Gatto reportedly paid $150,000 to one high school player, “Player-12,” to sway him to commit to play Division I basketball at one Florida university, “University-7.”

At the time, this unnamed university was described as “a private research university in Florida. With approximately 16,000 students and over 2,600 faculty members, it is one of the state’s largest universities. University-7 fields approximately 15 varsity sports teams in NCAA Division I competition, including men’s basketball.”

It was fairly obvious Miami was the school, and now it’s confirmed.

According to the FBI, an anonymous coach at Miami, “Coach 3,” was involved in the transfer of money. Gatto and the coach reportedly spoke twice on Aug. 6, 2017. The FBI said the coach organized and requested the payment to the player.

Now, investigators are looking to find the coach’s identity.

UM’s head men’s basketball coach Jim Larrañaga’s personal lawyer, Stuart Grossman, told the Palm Beach Post in an email that these charges “do not apply” to Larrañaga, who is entering his seventh year in the position.

“Please be assured that our beloved coach is unaware of any impropriety on the part of UM basketball and does not know the identity of the unnamed, unidentified ‘Coach-3,’” Grossman said. “He looks forward to leading the Hurricanes to continued success.”

No UM staffers or coaches have been charged.

“Player-12,” who the FBI is also looking to pinpoint, is supposedly a recruit in the 2018 class. Consensus five-star, top-15 recruit and then-potential Miami commit Nassir Little has been rumored to be “Player-12.”

Little has been linked to Jonathan Brad Augustine, one of the names specifically mentioned in the allegations. Augustine is the program director for the Adidas-sponsored “1 Family” AAU team, for which Little plays.

It was reported that Gatto discussed funneling payments to “Player-12” to persuade the athlete away from “University-4,” a school sponsored by Nike. The idea was that if “Player-12” committed to an Adidas sponsored school, he would then sign with that company once he goes professional.

Although the player has not been confirmed, Little appears to match the description.

On Oct. 14, Little swore under oath that he had no involvement in the scandal or any misconduct by the UM coaching staff. His father, Harold Little, signed a sworn affidavit.

On Sept. 28, 1 Family released a statement on Twitter that Little and his family were not involved in any kind of bribery and have no knowledge of the situation.

Little had Miami among his final five choices for schools, but ultimately chose the University of North Carolina Oct. 4. His list also included Arizona, Duke and Georgia Tech.

After the scandal surfaced, Little announced on his Twitter page that he had reopened his commitment – meaning he will consider all offers outside his previous five – but took down the post moments later.

Adidas’ sponsorship of Miami’s athletic department began when the two agreed to a 12-year, $90-million deal two years ago, following the end of a 27-year partnership with Nike.

“I didn’t think Nike was treating us at the level that we deserved to be treated,” Miami Director of Athletics Blake James said. “One of my frustrations with Nike was they do a great job of promoting their brand, but outside of the University of Oregon, they don’t.”

James commented on the federal investigation as a whole on Sept. 26, but has yet to speak since the announcement that UM would be probed.

“The University of Miami is aware of the indictments handed down today by the Department of Justice involving several men’s college basketball programs, coaches, financial advisors, agents and apparel executives,” James said. “As we are just learning the details, we cannot comment on the actions taken today by federal authorities. However, if requested, we will cooperate in any legal or NCAA review of the matter.”

Mark Richt, UM football’s head coach, spoke about the NCAA scandal on Sept. 27 before the investigation turned to Miami.

“I’m sure they know what they’re talking about,” Richt said of the FBI. “I doubt they’re making up stories. Bottom line is, if people aren’t behaving like they should, whether it’s players or it’s coaches or it’s business people or whatever it is, then there needs to be consequences.”

Four of the 10 people arrested in the federal charge were assistant coaches for Division I basketball schools, including Chuck Person of Auburn University, Emanuel Richardson of the University of Arizona, Tony Bland of the University of Southern California and Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State University.

This situation is already impacting UM’s 2018 recruiting class and could cause implications for future classes as well.

A source close to four-star recruit Jalen Carey told The Miami Hurricane he is no longer considering the University of Miami. UM was originally in Carey’s top-three choices along with Syracuse and Connecticut.

An anonymous four-star prospect told The Miami Hurricane he was strongly considering committing to Miami, but since has said, “It is definitely a time where I have to sit back and think … just need to be careful because anything is possible.”

Four-star recruit Jules Bernard told a source close to The Miami Hurricane that his visit to the University of Miami has been postponed. It still remains unclear if he will reschedule.

Fellow ACC powerhouse Louisville was already under investigation on Sept. 26 and has since put both its head coach, Rick Pitino, and director of athletics, Tom Jurich, under administrative leave. Jurich will be paid; Pitino will not.

The FBI began investigating this issue of the criminal use of money to influence athletes and coaches in the NCAA in 2015.

“The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one,” acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said at a news conference on Sept. 26. “Coaches at some of the nation’s top programs taking cash bribes, managers and advisers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes and employees of a global sportswear company funneling cash to families of high school recruits.”

Kim’s strong words did not stop there.

“For the 10 charged men, the madness of college basketball went well beyond the Big Dance in March,” Kim said. “Month after month, the defendants exploited the hoop dreams of student-athletes around the country, allegedly treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes.”