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Everything you need to know about Michael Avenatti’s Nike allegations

The dirt surrounding college basketball recruiting and popular shoe and apparel companies continues to pile up.

On Friday evening, Pat Forde, Pete Thamel, and Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports released yet another bombshell report, filled with the various exhibitions submitted to federal court by controversial lawyer Michael Avenatti.

His goal? To support his claims from earlier in the week that Nike has engaged in corruption and illegal payments to high-level basketball recruits.

As we’ve seen in some of the past breaking news stories over the last year or so, multiple big-name athletes and schools were included in Friday’s report.

And as we discussed on the site last night, Kentucky was one of the schools named in the documents, sparking a sense of uneasiness throughout the Big Blue Nation.

But what does it all mean, specifically for the Kentucky program? Do UK fans have any reason to be worried?

Let’s take a look.

Deandre Ayton, Zion Williamson, and Romeo Langford

While Kentucky fans were most interested in UK’s involvement, the biggest aspect of the story had to do with former Arizona center Deandre Ayton, among with fellow former prized recruits Zion Williamson (Duke) and Romeo Langford (Indiana).

For Ayton, the evidence was rather damning. According to the official court documents, Nike EYBL director Carlton DeBose received an email on his official Nike corporate account from Mel McDonald, a known middleman and handler for Ayton and former five-star big man Bol Bol, along with other associates.

The email had a subject line of “Numbers,” with in-depth details on the money spent on Ayton and those close to him.

The expenses revealed in the report covered travel, cell phone, and immigration costs, among other things, totaling $65,840.

In the same email, a long list of payouts were listed, including:

  • Nov. 3rd – $5K
  • Nov. 24th – $5K
  • Dec. 2nd – $5K
  • Dec. 12th – 5K in Kentucky (3 cells 2K cash)
  • Dec. 15th – $5K Xmas Gifts
  • Dec. 15th – $4K (loan) (Met mom about Larnelle)
  • Jan. 8th – $2940 mom $600 auntie
  • Feb. 9th – $5,000 for March to mom $3,500 for Bahamas to dad.

As far as the “Kentucky” line is concerned, this is likely in reference to the location of the payment, not the UK basketball program. Hillcrest Prep (AZ), Ayton’s high school, played in Lexington back on Dec. 12 and Dec. 13, 2015 for a tournament called the Bluegrass Showcase. While the document doesn’t clarify what the money was used for in Kentucky, the timeline certainly adds up.

Back in April, Avenatti accused Nike of making $83,000 worth of payments to those close to Ayton, providing documents to back up his accusations, as well.

On February 25, 2018, ESPN’s Mark Schlabach also reported that FBI wiretaps showed that Arizona head coach Sean Miller discussed a $100,000 payment to secure a commitment from Ayton.

Outside of Ayton, Avenatti also provided a series of text messages from February 2017 between DeBose, Nike recruiting coordinator John Stovall, and Nike EYBL manager Jamal James, where the trio discussed a plan to pay Williamson, Langford, and another undisclosed player from Michigan.

In one of the exhibits, James wrote to DeBose in a group text message trying to figure out what they would be able to swing financially for all three players.

“Remember that the Romeo and Zion deals are NOT done yet! We are still in it. Just want u to remember that possible financial obligation also,” James said in a text on February 11.

“We’re still in there for Zion and Langford?!?! I thought that ship had sailed,” DeBose later responded.

“Are we willing to do the additional 30K for this (California) [kid] along with whatever may be needed for the Zion/Romeo situations as well as the money we’re not going to do for the kid in Michigan?” James wrote back.

In one group text, James wrote to DeBose seeking to find out if they would be “willing to do … whatever may be needed for the Zion/Romeo situations as well as the money we’re now going to do for the [minor] kid in Michigan.”

“Langford — 20 (thousand), Zion — 35-plus (thousand), [Michigan kid] – 15 (thousand),” Stovall responded.

Later, DeBose added that he was okay with spending “70” if it meant they could “cripple adidas,” saying that those involved needed to “stay aggressive.”

“The other 70 listed I’m willing to spend to cripple adidas,” he said. “The amount of work that you guys are doing is more than worth me spinning the approximate 100K to support the efforts. I will have to get creative elsewhere in the budget but I’m encouraging you all to stay aggressive and I will figure out the money part.”

On February 28, Stovall then said a “new offer” for Williamson had not been presented, but they “hinted at it.”

“[No update on Williamson] yet,” he said. “[A third party] had not talked to them directly in a couple of days. Still has not presented our new offer. Only hinted at it. He did not want to put it in print which I agreed with.”

“What moved Langford?” DeBose responded.

“$$ is my guess,” Stovall said. “They claim “a chance to start a new path.” I’m not buying it. They admitted [Indiana] will stink and said “it’s not about wins and losses” lol.”

Unlike Ayton’s situation, the text messages did not indicate any money explicitly exchanged hands or whether or not any offers were officially presented.

Nonetheless, if you believe the documents, the discussions happened.

Kenny Payne’s “involvement”

As you guys read last night, Kenny Payne participated in a text message exchange with Carlton DeBose in the early hours of July 6, 2017.

According to the official exhibits in Avenatti’s case, Payne – listed by his initials and nickname of “KP” in the messages – had a conversation with DeBose, who told the Kentucky assistant which Nike EYBL coaches he supplied money to in order to help families of players on the popular shoe circuit.

“Do [you] help people like Webster and speedy every year and how many more people asked you to help them,” Payne asked DeBose. “They both are happy [you] are helping them. How many more are [there?]”

“Those two [Nike coaches]. And about 10 other brothers,” DeBose responded, adding nine more names to the list. “About 10 coaches who are helping families to the total of about [$200,000] annually and I still have to meet budget.”

“Wow,” Payne responded.

“You’re the only one that knows about it [because] so many of these dudes are selfish and would want more [because] they would argue that someone else don’t deserve the help more than they do,” DeBose said. “It’s a stressful balancing act.”

“Damn man, can it come back [and] hurt you?” Payne responded.

“Not really. Have to do it cleanly and with a process. I’m good, but it’s enough to where Lynn [Merritt, Nike’s global vice president for sports marketing and basketball] and Nico [Harrison, Nike’s vice president of North American Basketball Operations] don’t want to know the intimate details to cover their asses,” DeBose said. “So it’s a risk but my every day job is a damn risk so I’m used to it now.”

“Watch your back bro,” Payne responded, his final message in the exhibits.

Should Kentucky fans be worried?

Now that you know who DeBose is and what Payne said to him in the text exchange, is there any reason to sweat if you’re a Kentucky basketball fan?

In short, not really.

While it’s never a “good” thing to have your name associated with any scandal, Payne’s text exchange seemed to indicate he and the Kentucky program had seemingly minimal involvement in the entire process and that he was simply telling an individual he had known for quite some time to be careful.

Diving into the assistant’s quotes alone, while it’s obvious he’s not ignorant to the shadiness going on in the world of AAU basketball – he did acknowledge “Webster” and “Speedy” by name and was aware that they appreciated DeBose’s help – he was admittedly surprised at the number of EYBL coaches involved, the dollar figure attached to the process, and seemed to be unaware of the logistics of it all.

Looking at Kentucky’s recruiting track record, especially as of late, with players of questionable backgrounds and those rumored to be looking for handouts, John Calipari and his staff have backed off on multiple occasions.

Ayton, a player who publicly listed Kentucky as one of his favorite schools and was the first in the class of 2016 to receive a scholarship offer from UK, was outspoken about how his recruitment hadn’t gone the way he had hoped and wanted more schools to reach out. For a player who was deemed the most dominant and NBA-ready big man in his class, why would Kentucky randomly cut off all communication during the home stretch of his recruitment, especially when they likely could have reeled him in?

And with Langford, you may recall, Kentucky’s interest and communication dropped off almost completely in the spring of 2018. At the time, Langford’s father, Tim, told the Courier Journal about his disagreements with John Calipari during his time coaching the former five-star prospect with USA Basketball at the U19 FIBA World Cup in Egypt. He also added that Langford called Calipari in hopes of taking an official visit to Lexington in hopes of potentially solving their issues and rebuild burnt bridges.

No response.

Bol Bol’s contact dropped off, Terrance Ferguson essentially begged for an offer, Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t prioritized, Josh Jackson’s recruitment drew red flags, Anthony Bennett went from Kentucky lean to minimal interest, etc.

You go down the list, and it’s no secret that Kentucky has mostly stayed away from the prospects – especially late in their respective recruitments – that could have caused them potential headaches with the NCAA. This case only seems to be more of the same.

Going back to Payne’s text messages, there’s always the possibility – a very real one – that the Kentucky assistant used DeBose to find out which AAU programs, coaches, and prospects to avoid on the recruiting trail, not who to go after. If you need a safety blanket to know who will get you in trouble and who will keep you out of it, why not go to the direct source?

Considering the program’s recent track record and the fact that the NCAA has been watching Calipari like a hawk from the day he arrived in Lexington, it’d be far-fetched to think that Payne was using DeBose to find out which prospects were looking for handouts and use that information for more bad than good, to say the least. National analysts and rival fans may jump on this and assume guilt based on name recognition alone, but there is little-to-no substance here that should make Kentucky fans sweat.

Friday’s report didn’t completely clear Payne or the Kentucky basketball program of any wrongdoing, but it certainly didn’t implicate them in any way, either.


Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

48 Comments for Everything you need to know about Michael Avenatti’s Nike allegations

  1. Wade
    7:40 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

    Well kp is smart to use the info he got. Is he guilty for having a clean program in a dirty business ,you damn right. Watch us get the death penalty, lol! NCAA would do anything to get cal and Kentucky. Think Nike would be first to throw us under the bus if we did anything wrong but couldn’t so they made duke their flagship program. that’s why we didn’t play in the pk80 on Phil knights bday. Go cats.

    • ibescootch
      8:24 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      Why in the world would NCAA or Nike want to throw us under the bus?! Nike and the NCAA make so much money off UK, Duke, and Arizona, it’s stupid to think they’d jeopardize that, or that there’s any big conspiracy to “get them”. Both organizations are businesses. You don’t shoot your cash cow.

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      9:47 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      They’ve done it before.

  2. Ridge Runner
    8:37 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

    That’s a pretty good perspective of everything to this point, Jack. Thanks for the detailed clear approach.

    • Realme
      10:28 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      Agreed. Thanks Jack.

  3. SCOTTdavis12
    8:45 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

    Payne didn’t do shit but comment

    • Megan
      1:56 pm August 18, 2019 Permalink

      Knowing there’s a crime being committed and not doing shit about it doesn’t make you an angel. Jack’s done his usually excellent job of giving us the details, and he’s offered speculation on motives that could place KP in a relatively good light (while acknowledging there’s another possibility). But he spends no time on the simple question of what a person should do when they discover criminal activity. Is the answer nothing? Is that what we teach our children?

      Agree with Jack there appears to be no reason to sweat about this, but I’m disappointed in KP if he knew about this and allowed it to continue. Is there any ethical obligation to report wrongdoing? If I knew the guy next door were beating his wife, I’d notify someone.

    • runningunnin.454
      2:28 pm August 18, 2019 Permalink

      Payne was fishing for info about whom to avoid and when to back off. You note that we did not get Ayton, Bol Bol, Zion, Romeo, Reddish, Barrett, Bagley, Dante, etc.
      NCAA violations are not criminal activity like domestic violence, besides…
      EVERYBODY knew it was happening…including the NCAA. The four letter association is know for arbitrary enforcement while some schools participate with impunity.
      But, if you insist, I will tell the Infractions Committee, myself.
      Hey, folks; the sky is blue, grass is green, and water is wet.

    • Looother
      7:38 pm August 18, 2019 Permalink

      If I knew the gal next door was beating her boyfriend, I’d notify someone…

  4. 4everUKblue
    8:47 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

    Thanks Jack, your article was much more informative than Drew’s. Knowing how much they’d love to nail Cal is the main reason I haven’t been worried at all, but your article really slammed the door shut IMO.

  5. UKCatAttack
    8:48 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

    It is naive in my opinion to think we haven’t had some guys that got a little change on the side.

    • 4everUKblue
      8:51 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      Before Cal maybe but not since Cal has been coach, he’s too smart for that. Thinking he has is just wishful thinking for Cal haters.

    • Ridge Runner
      9:00 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      I’m with 4ever on this. In fact, Cal knows (as do many of us) the UK job is the top of the basketball world. He’s stated many times.. “It’s not for everybody”. We can get really good, great players who do the right thing and don’t need to contemplate those that don’t. Once you are the gold standard (another phrase we know he uses) – why look at anything that can tarnish that image.

    • 4everUKblue
      9:02 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      You’re right Ridge he loves this program too much to do anything like that. Who did you say Zion was again for those who missed it?

    • Ridge Runner
      6:49 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

      4ever, looks like that hits a nerve for deletion. I’ll just respect the KSR staff here on the reasoning but I’m not real sure why. One thing for certain… it’s cool the AA shortstop was honored. Lol

    • 4everUKblue
      9:18 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      I loved it, couldn’t stop laughing.

    • 4everUKblue
      2:13 pm August 18, 2019 Permalink

      Was it the Wichita Wingnuts?

    • Looother
      7:40 pm August 18, 2019 Permalink

      Correct and some of it’s a matter of public record…

    • 4everUKblue
      7:44 pm August 18, 2019 Permalink

      Bring some evidence forward or STFU Loother and cat attack.

  6. UKinIN
    8:56 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

    I have a hard time believing that Nike is greatly concerned with these dollar amounts. Not trying to dispute anything related to UK. I just can’t believe that Nike is really worried about $20K more to a player they want.

    • Han
      9:32 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      It’s more about that 20k not being on paperwork/visible than it is about how much. If it got out that they were making payments to people like that, it raises a lot of issues with bribery, taxes, wire fraud, etc. The stuff that got those coaches indicted.

  7. Ridge Runner
    9:43 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

    Auctioneer holds up pic of player, taps the gavel and [in a one minute very fast uttering as in a [car sale commercial]….

    Opening of 20k… who’ll give me 25..25 k…25..25… I got 25…now let’s get 30…30k…30k…who’ll go 30k….30…25 going once…we got 30… who’ll hit 35…35k….

    • Ridge Runner
      9:46 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      Of course real coaches aren’t in attendance. So we got symbols of bidders.

      Wait I see a dude holding up a hair piece. Okay Bill Self getting in on the action. Cool.

    • Ridge Runner
      9:50 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      Another guy holding up a wet white business shirt. What the hell! Oh… Sean Miller rocking some bids, I see it now.

    • Ridge Runner
      9:53 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      There seems to be several signs of a “rat face” that appears, then in an instance is rushed out of the arena. No one seems willing to make the connections… oh hold on…

    • Ridge Runner
      10:08 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      There is one recognizable face and he’s selling popcorn with a tee shirt on that says .. {Rick, I can do it in 14 seconds} — Yes, it’s Pat Forde doin’ the Volunteer vending stuff for tonight’s event. Awesome.

    • runningunnin.454
      11:50 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      There’s a sign that simply says, “Strong A$$ Offer”. Oh, that’s just Willie Wade’s guy from LSU.
      There’s another that just says, “Quack, Quack”. Oh, Dana Altman’s guy is here.

    • Ridge Runner
      6:44 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

      RG, I finally saw that yeah. They were behind another guy being escorted out hastily with a rat face sign. Those guys are everywhere and then escorted out by ncaa guys in white coats really fast.

  8. Ridge Runner
    9:58 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

    Sorry Jack, I messed up your post. In one of my silly moods again. Delete as needed sir.

    • Realme
      10:30 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

      I wouldn’t call that messing anything up. Have you seen some of the stuff nut jobs write on here? I thought it was good.

    • Ridge Runner
      6:46 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

      I hear ya Realme.. true.

    • michaelb
      10:40 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

      Hey I missed the comment that was deleted can some1 tell me what it sounded like

    • 4everUKblue
      2:14 pm August 18, 2019 Permalink

      Ridge that was no mess up, it was the highlight of my day.

  9. Just saying
    10:06 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

    Great post and I seldom say that on here. Said it before and say it again— “don’t do business on cell phone texts or emails dude?” Believe it or not there is such a communication format called private face-to-face conversations. Guess what they work!

  10. UKfanman01
    10:11 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

    I’ve always said Cal is clean. KP was ignorant and shocked at the inner workings. He def didnt sound like Sean Miller talking. Also Duke wasn’t listed in Zions final 3 and he ended up going there haha. UofLol gets a recruit (Bowen) in the same exact fashion and it was immediate investigation

    • mashburnfan1
      1:41 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

      He is clean? He is also one of the few coaches out there that has had wins vacated at 2 different Schools but of course “he knew nothing”. And all of you that do not think UK has cheated in recruiting you are not wanting to believe the truth or just plain stupid. All do it in some form, Cal just knows to leave it to others like he used to with WW Wes. Am sure Cal will not be as stupid as Miller was and be directly on the phone himself, btw we were in the Zion “bidding” {that is what all on here said when he announced dUKe} up until his announcement.

    • Ridge Runner
      6:54 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

      Mash, were you at the auction last night holding up a sign that read.. “I hate Cal even if he ain’t here”?
      Pretty sure it was you cuz you were like the angriest dude around and by yourself.

    • catsarerunnin
      7:02 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

      Mashturd seems to forget his Dirty Birds lost a banner.

    • dcforuk
      2:43 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

      IDK the Umass details but Rose is the reason for Memphis. That had zero to do with Cal.

    • Ridge Runner
      7:10 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

      DC, no use talking reasoning and truth to this guy. Yes, Rose and the S.A.T. is correct but this dude is infatuated with Cal Hatred and any logic to him is wasted. Just saving ya some time.

    • Ridge Runner
      7:26 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

      UMass? Yeah, it boils down to Marcus Camby taking benefits while in school. Here is his quote accepting responsibility .. “I’m really sorry,” Camby said. “I fully intend to pay back all the money – donate the money back to the school. My teammates and coaches knew nothing as I hid it from them. I know I disappointed them and the fans. People make mistakes and I made mistakes.”

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      12:58 pm August 18, 2019 Permalink

      Another crock from Mash. Have you forgotten that EVERYBODY and their grandma had Zion going to Clemson? As I recall UK and Clemson were considered top 2.

    • 4everUKblue
      1:21 pm August 18, 2019 Permalink

      Why does anyone read mashbum’s comments anymore? He’s a Cal hater who picks and chooses whatever fits his agenda and ignores facts that don’t. He wants so bad for people to think he knows something but the truth is he’s just an insignificant twit. Ignore him and you’re quality of life will improve immensely.

    • 4everUKblue
      2:15 pm August 18, 2019 Permalink

      If he could put aside Cal hate and report the real facts instead of what he wishes were the facts he might be okay but he is incapable.

  11. JASUN74
    11:58 pm August 17, 2019 Permalink

    I agree that he wasn’t involved, but why are you all afraid to write the rest of what he said????? That’s ashame and you act like if you don’t write it than no one else will see it. He did say “watch you back bro” , but he said more after that. Nothing I think was terrible and he’s was just talking to a friend, but why leave anything out he said, when you’re clearly trying to make it sound like those were his only words.

    As far as I’m concerned, he’s just trying to get information from the guy so he’ll know who to stay away from!! Or maybe the guy was trying to see if KP would bite and sit him up? I don’t know. But there’s more to the conversation than “Watch your back bro “. I read it and some my not have, and wanted to. Why leave it out though?? Don’t be afraid of all truths!!

    Anyway, It’s nothing that could hurt him or the school, but you’re giving people half the story and this may be the only place some read, they’re trying to make up their minds without seeing all of it!! It’s like you’re trying to hide it or something. Come on man!

  12. runningunnin.454
    12:23 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

    It would appear that Nike execs are aware of improper acts; but, want no specific information. Likewise, coaches like Coach K, Self, Pearl, Wade, and the Miller brothers hide behind proxies, thereby flying above the fray.
    Altman at Oregon is another that has been mentioned in court records. It was reported that Oregon offered ” an astronomical” amount of money to obtain Brian Bowen’s services. Adidas then came up with $100,000, and Bowen signed with Louisville.

  13. StuckinLville
    10:15 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

    All I’m seeing is how players named didnt end up at UK cuz Cal isn’t an idiot. I swear if Duke is dirty and they do nothing people should protest at NCAA headquarters.

  14. makeitstop
    11:53 am August 18, 2019 Permalink

    Will Wade and Sean Miller text about the specific offers, and our guy asks “who’s involved” and responds “wow” and advises to be careful when assured it’s being done “cleanly”. That’s about as exculpatory as u can get. And what DuBose is talking about doesn’t trigger any reporting obligation bc none of these AAU coaches are governed by the NCAA, nor are any high school players, nor their families. If the payments involve or result in taking a scholarship, then the NCAA has jxn, but that’s not discussed here. Will Wade’s “strong ass offer” is a different matter. But KP did just what he should do here, got into, and evidently steered clear or started planning who to recruit if the players’ “aunt” prevailed on him to go to UA or IU or, let’s say Duke.