Text messages from Kansas Jayhawks basketball coaches Bill Self and Kurtis Townsend to former Adidas consultant Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola took center stage Monday as a federal court case into college basketball corruption winds down.
Gassnola reiterated Monday that KU’s basketball coaches had no knowledge of his payments to families of two KU players. However, text conversations were presented as evidence by the defense in an effort to show KU’s staff knew about Gassnola’s involvement in recruiting players to the Jayhawks.
The text messages were shown on a screen in the New York courtroom. No recording devices are allowed in the court.
On Aug. 9. 2017, Gassnola texted KU’s assistant Townsend in a conversation about Fenny Falmagne, the guardian of then-recruit Silvio De Sousa, now a KU sophomore. Gassnola told Townsend, “Hit me when you can,” and Townsend replied, “Coach Self just talked to Fenny. Let me know how it goes.”
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Gassnola also texted Self, saying he talked with Falmagne. Self asked “we good” over text, and Gassnola replied “always,” saying this was light work and the ball was in Falmagne’s court now.
That same day, Gassnola texted Self to call him when he had five minutes and he was alone. The two had a five-minute, six-second phone conversation. The call was not wiretapped by the FBI nor played in court.
Adidas executive Jim Gatto’s defense attorney, Michael S. Schachter, asked Gassnola on Monday if he could recall what he and Self talked about.
“I don’t,” Gassnola said.
Gassnola, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, is a government witness in the case against Gatto and two other defendants, who are accused of wire fraud conspiracy by paying the families of top basketball recruits, which would render them ineligible under NCAA rules and defraud the schools, including Kansas.
Last week, Gassnola testified that he offered Falmagne $20,000 but never paid it, saying he did give him $2,500 so De Sousa could take online classes. Gassnola also has testified during the trial that he paid the family of former KU player Billy Preston $89,000.
Asked by Schachter if Self knew about those payments to Preston’s family, Gassnola testified “Never.”
On Aug. 19, 2017 — days before KU Athletics announced a 12-year contract extension with Adidas — Gassnola texted Self to tell him thank you for helping to get that extension done. Self replied via text that he was happy with Adidas and wrote “Just got to get a couple real guys.”
Gassnola responded with a text that said, “In my mind, it’s KU, Bill Self. Everyone else fall into line. Too (expletive) bad. That’s what’s right for Adidas basketball. And I know I’m right. The more you win, have lottery picks and you happy. That’s how it should work in my mind.” Self replied by text, “That’s how ur (sic) works. At UNC and Duke.” Gassnola answered by saying Kentucky as well. “I promise you I got this. I have never let you down. Except (Deandre). Lol. We will get it right.”
In this case, Gassnola was referring to center Deandre Ayton. Gassnola testified Thursday that he felt he let Self down when Ayton chose Arizona instead of KU.
Self, when asked at last week’s KU basketball media day for comment about the federal trial, said: “No I don’t have any response. I can’t talk about that. I’m not meaning to be opaque about this at all. I just feel like … our stance is still the same. We’ll comment when the time is appropriate. The appropriate time is when this is done and that’ll certainly be the case. I’m not going to make comments day to day on what has been said because we’ll know obviously in the next couple weeks what actually this is all about.”
Last week, KU associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said KU Athletics would continue to defer all comment about the federal trial to KU director of strategic communications Joe Monaco. When contacted then, Monaco referred to a previous KU statement from the previous week: “It is not appropriate for the university to comment while legal proceedings are ongoing. As we have said all along, the prosecution has not suggested any wrongdoing by the university or its coaches. We will continue to cooperate as requested throughout the trial.”
On Aug. 26, 2017, Townsend texted Gassnola a message he said was from Falmagne: “Coach has been on the phone with Angola. We are good to go. We will commit tomorrow.” Gassnola testified Thursday that he’d been in communication with Townsend about Falmagne because Falmagne was looking to get Adidas gear for the Angolan national team.
Gassnola said he’d follow up the next day with Falmagne, with Townsend texting him, “Thank you.”
De Sousa committed to KU four days later on Aug. 30, 2017. Gassnola testified Monday that Gatto told him he got a call from Self thanking him after De Sousa committed.
Schachter asked Gassnola if, when he said “follow up” in the text message, if that meant paying Falmagne $20,000.
“I don’t know what I was telling him,” Gassnola said.
Gassnola reiterated on the stand Monday that he was not going to tell Townsend that he was paying Falmagne money. Gassnola also denied again he paid Falmagne $20,000 while stating the only reason he spoke with Falmagne was in regards to helping with Adidas equipment for the Angola national team.
There was also additional evidence submitted Monday that indicated Nicole Player, the mother of the former KU player Preston, conspired to keep the money she received secret from the NCAA and KU.
On Nov. 13, 2017 — three days after KU’s opener against Tennessee State, and the day before the team’s game in the Champions Classic against Kentucky — Preston texted his mother three times, saying: “The NCAA dude just came to my floor. He said something about my car and how it’s bought in FL and all that. Text me back!”
Player responded in a series of four messages: “Tell him you don’t know where it was bought. Your mom and nana handled that. You don’t know. IDC what they say to you.”
The next four words were each in separate texts for emphasis: “YOU. DONT. KNOW. KNOW.”
“GOT YOU,” Preston responded.
Player replied once more: “If they ask you about a person say.. ‘I don’t know’ ... ‘I would have to see their face.’”
Preston, who sat out KU’s first game last season for missing curfew and class, according to Self, was not allowed to play against Kentucky while the school looked into the “financial picture” regarding his vehicle after a one-car accident on campus. Preston sat out the next 16 games after that before turning pro overseas.
Gassnola has finished testifying in the case. Judge Lewis A. Kaplan told the jury Monday that it should be ready to deliberate this week.
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