The NCAA’s case against N.C. State University alleging an improper $40,000 payment to former basketball player Dennis Smith Jr. does not include interviews of the two men accused of being at the center of the arrangement — former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola and former men’s assistant basketball coach Orlando Early.
Records obtained Tuesday by The News & Observer through a public records request show a list of exhibits in the case that identifies who was interviewed and other records being used to charge NCSU’s former basketball coach Mark Gottfried with a failure to monitor and Early with providing impermissible benefits. Those benefits include a $40,000 payment during Smith’s recruitment that came from Gassnola and $6,600 in excessive complimentary game tickets.
The exhibit list includes references to several attempts to interview Early, Gassnola and Adidas executive Jim Gatto, who was convicted last October in a federal trial in New York of arranging illegal payments to Smith and basketball recruits at Louisville and Kansas. Gassnola was a government witness and admitted guilt in the case. Early never testified and has also never commented on the case.
The exhibit list indicates that NCAA investigators sent “refusal to cooperate” letters to Gassnola and Gatto, but no such letter is listed for Early.
In his case, the exhibit list said a final “contact for interview” email was sent to Early on April 3, and a confirmation the following day that a letter had been sent via UPS.
Early, however, did send an email to Matt Norlander, a senior writer for CBSSports.com, that is referenced as an exhibit. In the email, the exhibit list said, Early acknowledged “his belief that shoe companies have become more involved in the recruiting process for top tier prospects.” Yahoo Sports’ report about documents showing agent Andy Miller’s firm potentially providing $73,500 in loans to Smith is also referenced as an exhibit.
Another person accused of being in the loop on the $40,000 payment is Shawn Farmer, an athletic trainer working with Smith at the time. While some of the descriptions of the exhibits refer to Farmer, there is nothing indicating the NCAA interviewed him or tried to schedule an interview. There is also no indication that Smith or his family were interviewed.
Smith played one season for the Wolfpack and was a first-round NBA draft pick in 2017. He now plays for the New York Knicks.
The lack of input from Early, Gassnola, Gatto, Farmer and Smith in the NCAA investigation suggests the $40,000 payment allegation rides on Gassnola’s testimony and other evidence submitted in the federal case. His testimony is one of 16 documents from the criminal case listed as exhibits in the NCAA’s investigation.
Gottfried, who was interviewed by NCAA investigators, has denied knowledge of the $40,000 payment and disputes the NCAA’s claim that he should have been aware of shady dealings in his program. He was fired before the federal investigation became public and is now the head basketball coach at Cal State-Northridge.
The exhibit list indicates some NCSU basketball staff acknowledging Gassnola and Farmer being around the program. Dawn Winters, an executive assistant to the basketball coach, noted Farmer “frequently attending practices while Smith Jr. was a student-athlete.”
The NCAA has also identified as evidence text messages between Gottfried and Early that involve the Smith family, Gassnola, Gatto, Farmer and Martin Fox, an associate of Miller. The NCAA also lists months of phone records of NCSU basketball staff, financial records for Smith and his family, and records showing complimentary tickets to basketball and football games that include references to Farmer being a beneficiary.
The other released document is a list of persons who “may be mentioned” in the case. Besides the central figures listed in the notice of allegations, the list includes NCSU athletics staff, Smith family members and friends, AAU coaches Stanley Bland and Keith Stevens, Miller and two associates, and Anthony Coleman, a former assistant men’s basketball coach at Arizona State who once worked for Adidas as a sports marketing coordinator.
NCSU officials made no comment about the lists of exhibits and individuals in releasing them to the N&O via email just after normal business hours, and declined to comment Tuesday evening. Fred Hartman, an NCSU spokesman, said in the email the university could not release the transcripts and other records referred to in the exhibit list because they are on an NCAA website that doesn’t allow for copying or printing.
The notice of allegations against NCSU, which the school released on July 10, is the first to become public of what are several NCAA investigations spinning off the federal investigation into the role of sneaker company money in college basketball recruiting. Other schools that have been mentioned in that investigation include Louisville, Kansas, Arizona, Miami, Auburn and LSU.
This is the first case under the NCAA’s new evidentiary rules, which allow information from criminal cases to be used in NCAA investigations.