It’s been exactly one year to the day since the FBI turned college basketball on its face with the release of an indictment alleging widespread corruption within the sport. Ten people, including four assistant coaches at power conference programs, were arrested, and the promise that this was just “the tip of the iceberg” was repeated ad nauseam.
Twelve months after that pledge was first uttered, the landscape of college basketball looks ... well, it looks pretty much the same.
Though there have been additional developments — Kansas and NC State were both named in a superseding indictment released in April — the notion that college basketball would somehow be entirely reformed by the FBI’s investigation appears to have been misguided. The best evidence of that comes from a quick look at the state of the six programs directly targeted in the FBI’s original indictment on Sept. 26, 2017.
One of the four assistant coaches who was arrested was Auburn’s Chuck Person, who was subsequently fired by the school on Nov. 7. The fallout continued when support staff members Jordan VerHulst and Frankie Sullivan were placed on administrative leave, and presumed starters Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy were deemed to be indefinitely ineligible. The NCAA would later rule in the middle of the season that both players were ineligible for the duration of 2017-18. Wiley has since been cleared for action in 2018-19, while Purifoy will have to sit for the first 30 percent of the season. Both players are still at Auburn.
Few teams in any sport have ever flown higher in the face of adversity than the 2017-18 Auburn Tigers did. A team that was picked to finish ninth in the SEC, which lost an assistant coach and two of its best players, and had to listen to talk all season long about how its head coach was going to be fired — that same team won the SEC regular-season title and earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Where They Are Now
In the final months of 2017, it seemed as if there was no way Bruce Pearl would survive the full season as Auburn’s head coach. On June 4, Pearl signed a contract extension that will keep as the frontman of Tiger basketball through at least the 2022-23 season.
With most of its scoring load back from last season as well as the returns of Wiley and Purifoy, Auburn figures to begin the 2018-9 season ranked somewhere in the top 15, if not top 10. For a program still chasing its first trip to the Final Four, few seasons have had more hype than the one the Tigers are about to embark on.
As for recruiting, the FBI’s interest in the program seems to have had the same bizarro reverse effect there as it did with the team’s actual on-court results. Pearl has four commits from the 2019 class, two of which are four-star talents. His class currently ranks as the seventh-best in the country.
No program was impacted by the FBI’s tremor more than Louisville. Within days, the school fired both Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino, assistant coaches Jordan Fair and Kenny Johnson, as well as longtime athletic director Tom Jurich. The only coach remaining, assistant David Padgett, was promoted to interim head coach and forced to put together a makeshift staff just weeks before the start of the season. The result was a team that most had pegged as a top-15 squad in the preseason failing to make the NCAA tournament, and home attendance dipping to its lowest total in nearly 20 years.
Brian Bowen, the five-star recruit at the heart of Louisville’s issues with the FBI, was disassociated from the program and eventually transferred to South Carolina. After failing to be cleared by the NCAA, Bowen eventually declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft. He went undrafted and is currently playing professionally in Australia.
Where They Are Now
New athletic director Vince Tyra made the first major move of his tenure when he was able to convince Xavier head coach Chris Mack to become Louisville’s third permanent head coach since 1971. In the succeeding months, Mack has rejuvenated the Cardinals fan base with both his enthusiasm and a laid-back demeanor that has organically painted himself as the antithesis to Pitino.
Mack’s recruiting hasn’t hurt matters either. As it stands right now, Louisville is the only program in the country that has four committed recruits from the class of 2019 who are rated as four stars or better. The quartet of four-star players David Johnson, Jaelyn Withers, Josh Nickelberry, and Samuel Williamson has Mack’s class currently ranked as the third-best in college basketball.
Louisville may struggle in 2018-19. The Cardinals lost their three best players from a team that finished its season in the NIT, and Mack’s first schedule as U of L’s head coach is one of the toughest in program history. Even so, Mack seems to have triggered a renewed zest and hope for the future among the fan base he now represents.
That hope for the future comes with a major caveat: Unlike the other teams on the FBI’s original list, Louisville is still fresh off another major NCAA violations case, one which caused it to lose its 2013 national championship banner. Whenever the other shoe drops, U of L’s status as a repeat offender could leave it worse off than the other schools dealing with similar transgressions.
USC was home to Tony Bland, another one of the four assistant coaches who were arrested last September. The federal indictment alleged that Bland received at least $13,000 in bribes to funnel potential NBA players at USC toward services provided by aspiring agent Christian Dawkins and financial advisor Munish Sood. He was also accused of facilitating $9,000 worth of payments directly to the families of USC basketball players. Bland was immediately placed on administrative leave and officially fired on Jan. 25.
De’Anthony Melton, the team’s presumed starting point guard, was suspended for the season by the school despite never being accused of any legal or NCAA wrongdoing. Dave Elliott, a Melton family friend, is accused of accepting $5,000 with the understanding he would steer Melton toward Dawkins and Sood. Melton eventually declared himself eligible for the draft and was selected by the Phoenix Suns in the second round.
The No. 10 team in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll, USC struggled to deal with the loss of Melton and the distractions that came with the FBI investigation. The Trojans finished second in the Pac-12, but lost 12 games and were one of the most notable NCAA tournament exclusions on Selection Sunday. Their season ended with a loss to Western Kentucky in the second round of the NIT.
Where They Are Now
USC head coach Andy Enfield eventually replaced Bland with Eric Mobley, the father of five-star recruits Isaiah and Evan Mobley. Isaiah, the No. 16 overall player in the 2019 class, committed to USC two months after the hiring of his father. Evan, the top-ranked player in the 2020 class, is still uncommitted.
In addition to Isaiah Mobley, Enfield has been able to land commitments from four other members of the class of 2019, including five-star big man Onyeka Okongwu out of the same Chino Hills High School that originally made the Ball family famous. Just a year after being smack dab in the middle of arguably the biggest scandal in college basketball history, USC is recruiting better than it ever has before. Enfield’s 2019 class is currently ranked as the best in the country.
Like Louisville, Miami wasn’t explicitly named in the FBI’s original indictment, nor did it have an assistant coach arrested. Instead, Miami was referred to throughout the indictment as “University-7,” Jim Larranaga was referred to as “Coach-3,” and then recruit Nassir Little was referred to as “Player 12.” The accusation in the indictment was Adidas employee Jim Gatto was working with an assistant at Miami to move $150,000 to Little’s family to get him to play for the Hurricanes. Little eventually signed with North Carolina and will be a freshman at UNC this season.
Other than losing out on Little’s services, Miami has felt no real impact of the FBI’s indictment. Larranaga has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, no coaches or staffers have been fired, and the 2017-18 season went on without distraction. The Hurricanes won 22 games, earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, and was the first of Loyola of Chicago’s four upset victims on the Ramblers’ road to the Final Four.
Where They Are Now
A year later, there is no discernible change to the Miami basketball program. Even with the loss of Lonnie Walker to the NBA, the Hurricanes figure to be competitive again in 2018-19. Larranaga signed a two-year contract extension in April that will keep him with the program through 2024.
The FBI’s indictment alleged that Book Richardson, a top assistant to Sean Miller since 2009, accepted $20,000 in bribes from Dawkins and Sood for steering a top Arizona point guard recruit to work with them. The recruit in question is believed to be five-star floor general Jahvon Quinerly, who wound up signing with Villanova. Richardson, who was arrested, was immediately placed on administrative leave and subsequently fired in January.
Arizona’s role in this scandal blew up in February when ESPN’s Mark Schlabach released a report alleging the FBI had caught Miller on a wiretap explicitly discussing a $100,000 to ensure that center DeAndre Ayton would sign with the school. The next night, Miller did not coach the Wildcats’ game against Oregon, but Ayton played. As details from Schlabach’s report became more and more refuted, Miller returned to the team and coached the rest of the season without issue.
The Wildcats began the season ranked No. 3 in the country, struggled through the first half of the year, but appeared to hit their stride in March with a Pac-12 tournament triumph. That belief was squashed a week later when 13-seed Buffalo ran all over Miller’s team en route to a stunning 89-68 upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Where They Are Now
Arizona’s 2018 recruiting class was hurt by the FBI investigation, most notably when Shareef O’Neal (Shaq’s son) flipped his commitment to UCLA following the release of Schlabach’s report for ESPN. Though the Wildcats figure to take a step backwards in 2018-19, it appears as though they’ll be back on course in short order. The best evidence for that is the recent commitment of Nico Mannion, the top-ranked point guard in the class of 2019. Just days after Mannion’s commitment, Miller also received a pledge from 7-footer Christian Koloko.
The fourth assistant coach arrested last September was Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans, who allegedly accepted $22,000 in bribes to steer athletes to South Carolina during his time with the Gamecocks. Evans was also accused of engaging in similar activities with Dawkins and Sood during his brief time at Oklahoma State.
Unlike the other schools targeted by the FBI, Oklahoma State was dealing with a first-year head coach who couldn’t possibly have been a part of any of the allegations levied against the program. In his first season on the job, Brad Underwood had led the Cowboys to the 2017 NCAA tournament before abruptly bolting for Illinois. OSU had then hired Mike Boynton, who accepted the job just months before the program’s name would pop up in the FBI indictment.
Oklahoma State fired Evans and suspended star guard Jeffrey Carroll for the first three games of the season. Carroll returned and earned All-Big 12 honors as the Cowboys won 21 games and narrowly missed a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Where They Are Now
Like Miami, it’s easy to forget that Oklahoma State was involved in this in any capacity. Boynton’s job security was never in question, no additional allegations have been levied against the program, and the Cowboys seem to be set up well to be players in the Big 12 for the foreseeable future. Boynton’s current 2019 recruiting class features a pair of four-star players and is ranked as the 11th-best in the country.