LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Rick Pitino claims he didn't watch it, and who has ever known a basketball coach to stretch the truth? Right?
But if the former Louisville coach had tuned into "The Scheme," which debuted on HBO Tuesday night and is still available, he would have been pleased with the way he was portrayed by the 'star' of the show, Christian Dawkins.
Because Pitino was basically characterized as an innocent bystander in the college basketball recruiting scandal that rocked the sport in the fall of 2017 and led to his firing 2 1/2 years ago.
Dawkins, the aspiring agent who helped UofL land five-star recruit Brian Bowen II, contends in the documentary that an undercover FBI agent told him he could avoid federal felony charges if he implicated Pitino and NBA agent Andy Miller in the pay-for-play scheme.
"They said to me very clearly, in no uncertain terms, we want you to give us Rick Pitino and you will be fine," said Dawkins, who declined and was subsequently convicted of wire fraud and other charges and was given a 366-day prison sentence (he is appealing).
Bowen had enrolled in UofL and was on campus when news of the scandal broke in September, 2017. He was suspended from the team and later transferred to South Carolina, where we was ruled ineligible. He then played professionally in Australia and is now on the roster of the Indiana Pacers.
The Bowen family was supposed to receive $100,000 if Brian attended Louisville, money allegedly supplied by the Adidas shoe company. Ultimately, a small part of the payoff was given to UofL assistant coach Kenny Johnson, who was also later fired.
Dawkins at no time in the documentary indicated that Pitino was aware of any of the shenanigans, and no wiretap of Pitino was played in the telecast. So either Dawkins was being loyal to Pitino or he had no reason to believe that the Hall of Fame coach was involved. Pitino, who recently was hired as Iona's coach, has said he didn't even know Dawkins.
Asked by Courier-Journal columnist Tim Sullivan by text message if he had seen “The Scheme,” Pitino responded:
"Why would I watch that? What validity does he (Dawkins) have. . .He said allegedly that he had cachet with me. His text messages were: 'Hi coach, not sure if u remember me but I use to run an AAU program in Michigan.'"
Dawkins says in the film that the pay-for-play game plan quickly got out of hand.
“Everybody went into it with the right intentions,” Dawkins said. “Did it get wholly (bleeped) up? I indicate, it acquired (bleeped) up. . .past my imagination. And I have a really big creativity.”
What was puzzling from the documentary was the same thing that puzzled, amazed and annoyed many for months and months. And that is, how in the world do the coaches at Arizona, LSU and Kansas still have their jobs?
Arizona coach Sean Miller, LSU's Will Wade and Kansas coach Bill Self were all caught on wiretaps discussing with Dawkins about paying players. Miller's and Wade's recorded comments were played by HBO, Self's wasn't.
Wade said LSU could compensate a player "better than the NBA rookie minimum ($898,310)" and indicated he regretted that a "(expletive) strong-ass offer" to Javonte Smart was "too titled toward the family."
Smart, a 6-4 guard, did wind up signing with the Tigers and averaged 12.5 points and 4.2 assists as a sophomore this past season.
As for Miller's wiretap, he sounds like a coach who lost a bidding war for LSU recruit Nez Reid, a 6-9 center who played one season for the Tigers, then turned pro and is now with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"He just probably said, 'You know what, (expletive) you, I don't want 75, I want 120,'" Miller said.
Miller's former assistant, Book Richardson, has pleaded guilty to bribery. Dawkins refers to Miller as "a good actor" and calls Wade a "gangster."
Although there were no new revelations, "The Scheme" made for fascinating viewing and once again brought home the disturbing fact that Pitino, the only coach among the quartet who wasn't implicated in the scam, was also the only coach who lost his job. Meanwhile, Miller, Self and Wade are allowed to continue making millions of dollars despite reckless behavior.
Six University of Louisville men’s basketball games from the 2019-20 season will be featured on the ACC Network in an eight-day stretch from April 5-12, highlighting several of the league top games from the most recent ACC basketball season.
The Cardinals’ games included in the programming include:
Air Date, Time Event (original 2020 game date)
April 7, 10 a.m. Louisville at Pitt (Jan. 14)
April 7, 2 p.m. Louisville at Duke (Jan. 18)
April 8, Noon Louisville at Boston College (Jan. 29)
April 8, 4 p.m. Louisville at NC State (Feb. 1)
April 9, 10 a.m. Louisville at Georgia Tech (Feb. 12)
April 9, 1:30 p.m. Louisville at Clemson (Feb. 15)
Fifty-nine games and more than 110 hours of ACC basketball from the 2019-20 season will be aired on ACCN beginning at 10 a.m. ET on Sunday, April 5, with Georgia Tech’s season-opening overtime win at N.C. State on Nov. 5, 2019.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.