Kansas basketball and longtime assistant coach Kurtis Townsend on Tuesday again found themselves at the center of the ongoing college hoops corruption trial in New York.
In a wiretap transcript read by the defense but not approved as admissible evidence, Townsend in a conversation with defendant and then-Adidas consultant Merl Code allegedly expressed a willingness to provide cash and other benefits requested by the father of former five-star recruit Zion Williamson, according to coverage of the trial by Sports Illustrated’s Dan Greene.
Williamson’s father was “asking for opportunities from an occupational prospective. He’s asking for money in the pocket. And he’s asking for housing for him and his family,” Code told Townsend in the phone call.
Townsend allegedly responded, “I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way. Because if that’s what it takes to get him for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”
Williamson, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound forward and native of Spartanburg, S.C., was the No. 5 prospect nationally in the Class of 2018, according to recruiting outlet 247Sports.com’s composite rankings. He committed to Duke on Jan. 20, 2018, and is a centerpiece of the Blue Devils’ strong freshman class.
Judge Lewis A. Kaplan rejected the defense’s attempt to enter the conversation as evidence and therefore bring it before a jury because it occurred just 12 days before Code’s arrest in September 2017 and is therefore unable to provide sufficient insight into Code’s state of mind at the time of the alleged fraud, Greene reported. Code, former Adidas executive James “Jim” Gatto and former aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins are on trial for wire fraud, with the defense trying to prove the universities that the three men steered top prospects to were aware of the under-the-table payments to families and guardians and were therefore not “defrauded” as the government is alleging.
Tuesday’s news is only the latest ensnarement at the trial for KU, arguably Adidas’ most important university partner. The recruitment of current Jayhawk forward Silvio De Sousa and former forward Billy Preston were both called into question last week, and Monday, text messages between head coach Bill Self and Townsend and ex-Adidas consultant Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola were detailed and appeared to show the KU coaches were at least aware of the so-called recruiting fixer’s involvement with the Jayhawk targets.
Gassnola testified KU coaches were unaware of his illicit payments to players. Self and KU have refused comment on the day-to-day developments at the trial, though Self last week told reporters the university will comment “when the time is appropriate,” and that is at the trial’s conclusion. Townsend has been an assistant under Self at KU since 2004.