Michigan State's reputation takes ding; FBI probe names Miles Bridges' mom
It might have been only $400 given to the parent of a player by a third party. Miles Bridges and Tom Izzo and Michigan State’s coaching staff might not have known. Perhaps there wasn’t any money exchanged at all. Perhaps it shouldn’t be wrong if there was.
All of that is important and fair discussion. In the meantime, Friday’s revelations by Yahoo Sports are a blow to an MSU basketball program and Hall of Fame coach that are already under siege.
They're also a blow to Izzo's long-held reputation for winning without a deep dive into the cesspool of college basketball recruiting.
A year-long federal investigation into corruption in college basketball recruiting has turned up at least two-dozen names of familiar players from some of the most prominent programs in the sport, according to a story published Friday by Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde and Pete Thamel.
Forde and Thamel viewed hundreds of pages of documents, including expense reports and balance sheets from former NBA agent Andy Miller and his runner, Christian Dawkins, who are at the center of the FBI’s investigation into bribery and corruption.
Among the names that surfaced in the documents was Cynthia Bridges, the mother of Miles Bridges.
According to the Yahoo Sports piece, there is a line on Dawkins’ expense report from May 3, 2016 that reads, “ATM Withdraw: Miles Bridges mom advance. $400.” And another, “Redwood Lodge. Lunch w/Miles Bridges parents. $70.05.”
Yahoo’s report doesn’t confirm whether that lunch took place or the advance was paid.
Relative to the other dollar figures and transactions listed — including larger sums of money payed directly to players — Cynthia Bridges’ transgression, if it occurred, is small-time stuff.
But it’s a big-time deal because it’s MSU — a program that was supposed to be free and clear of this FBI probe. It casts doubt on Izzo and Miles Bridges. It raises the question, what else is there?
And from here on, fair or not, folks will wonder about MSU under Izzo. Some will associate MSU with programs long-rumored to be unscrupulous.
We don’t know yet if the alleged payment ever actually occurred. Dawkins is charged by the FBI with three counts of wire fraud and one count of money-laundering conspiracy, so it would be naive to think of him as incapable of defrauding his own bosses on an expense report.
This is also college basketball, so it would be just as naive to believe there couldn't have been a transaction.
If it happened, we also don't know yet whether Miles Bridges or Tom Izzo were aware of it. Izzo denied being aware of any wrongdoing by his staff or players in a statement Friday.
And, if that seems unlikely, consider the case of Brian Bowen, who appears to have been in the dark about his father and Dawkins conspiring with an Adidas representative to secure $100,000 for the Bowen family if Bowen went to Louisville.
“From dealing with Christian Dawkins in the past in recruiting scenarios, it was made very clear that money was needed to secure commitment, but the player did not and could not know,” said former DePaul associate head coach Rick Carter, who recruited Bowen.
“It’s been on record that Miles’ mother wanted him to go to pro (last year). He didn’t,” Carter continued. “If the player doesn’t know and obviously isn’t listening to the parent, how are they guilty?”
Carter, who coached the AAU teams of Drew Neitzel and Paul Davis while Izzo was recruiting them and later worked as a graduate manager for Izzo, remains firm in his belief that Izzo isn’t buying players. Carter, who also recently coached at Xavier, pointed to the example of former Xavier star Edmond Sumner, whose family was implicated in Yahoo’s story, as an example of coaches being in the dark, too.
“We didn’t know Edmond Sumner’s dad got money,” Carter said. “I was there with Edmond. I was there with (head coach) Chris (Mack). As a staff, we didn’t know. We had no clue.”
If Izzo and Miles Bridges had no clue, there’s no need to fear repercussion or sit Bridges for any length of time.
Whatever the case, it would be hard for the NCAA to prove MSU’s guilt if this is all there is.
The FBI is out to prove and punish influence and corruption. A few hundred dollars to a parent, who appears to have very little influence in her son’s decisions, isn’t going to be at the heart of FBI’s case.
It’ll be just as hard for Izzo and Bridges to prove their innocence in the fast-moving, quick-judging court of public opinion, if they are indeed innocent.
In the documents viewed by Yahoo Sports, Dawkins also lists a dinner with Izzo, as well as dinners with other coaches around the country. Izzo will have to explain that, even if it isn’t a rules violation. Because it shows a relationship between Izzo and Dawkins.
Of course, there is a relationship between Izzo and Dawkins, one that dates back to Dawkins’ childhood. Dawkins, 24, is the son of Lou Dawkins, who, with Draymond Green as his star, coached Saginaw High School to two state championships and then spent six years on the staff of former MSU assistant Mark Montgomery at Northern Illinois.
Christian Dawkins is also the older brother of Dorian Dawkins, who at age 14 collapsed at Izzo’s basketball camp in 2009 and later died. Christian rode with him in the ambulance.
Izzo spent that night at Sparrow Hospital with Lou and his wife, Latricia, and Christian. So there is a connection beyond any racketeering that is pure and deep.
Christian went on to run an AAU basketball team named in Dorian’s honor, “Dorian’s Pride,” for several years, coaching other Michigan natives included in Yahoo’s report of the FBI findings — Josh Jackson, Kyle Kozma and Bowen. Christian then became a runner for two different agencies, which paid him to recruit NBA draft prospects. One of those agencies was ASM Sports, run by Andy Miller. That’s where the trouble began for Christian Dawkins and, it turns out, a lot of other folks.
At the heart these federal documents are loans to players and their families and travel expenses covered. Former North Carolina State star Dennis Smith allegedly received $73,500. Another player was on the books for $37,657. Others were given between $10,000 and $16,000, documents in Yahoo’s story show. Many more families were provided lower sums in the thousands.
And then Miles Bridges’ mom, Cynthia, in the hundreds.
This is likely just the tip of what’s out there. One agency busted, with a lot of Michigan connections so it hits close to home. It should be enough for us to reexamine our absurd relationship with major college sports in this country, a system for which we’re all culpable — the universities, the coaches, the fans, media, including Thamel and Forde who broke this story.
“These allegations, if true, point to systemic values that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement Friday.
What the NCAA does is where it gets interesting. It already is at MSU, where ESPN is hounding Izzo over his program’s handling of sexual assault and violence toward women over the years. That story has holes. This one, as far as MSU’s concerned, might be nothing.
Both, at the very least, require explanations.
Contact Graham Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.