UofL: Pitino knew schools were trying to pay recruit

LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – Former Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino was a “central figure” in the recruitment of Brian Bowen as early as 2015, working with a former agent to arrange a visit to campus and discussing fears that other schools were allegedly trying to pay Bowen’s family, the university alleges in court documents. 

“DePaul trying to pay Bowen 200 K to come there,” Pitino texted then assistant coach Kenny Johnson, according to court records. “Crazy world.”

The texts and other documents relating to Pitino’s alleged direct recruitment of Bowen working with a former agent are included in court documents in federal lawsuits the coach and school have filed against each other in the wake of Pitino’s termination in October.

The university makes no allegations that Pitino knew of any plan to pay Bowen's family to play at U of L, but argues there is evidence the coach "was aware of red flags regarding" a former agent and Adidas executive's involvement in Bowen's recruitment.

"I got a text message like I get 30 a year from assistant coaches-from my assistant coaches-that say 'hey, school X is offering this kid $100,000.' It's all gossip and rumors that you get every single day," Pitino said on The Terry Meiners Show on Thursday afternoon.

Pitino, according to the school's argument, "intentionally failed to disclose those concerns to compliance staff rather than risk Bowen choosing a different school."

"That's total B.S.," Pitino said. "All it does is hurt the University and the Louisville basketball program in the end." 

Pitino said he didn't tell the university's compliance office about the claim against DePaul because it was "gossip," a "rumor" without evidence that he and another coach laughed off. 

A spokesperson for DePaul sent out a statement late Thursday:

“DePaul University takes seriously the high standards of conduct expected in our athletics department and will not tolerate deviation from those standards. To date, neither the NCAA nor federal prosecutors have contacted us about this matter. We will, of course, fully cooperate if contacted in the future by the NCAA or federal law enforcement.”

U of L did not specifically mention any other schools allegedly bidding for Bowen. 

U of L claims Pitino was working with now-indicted agent Christian Dawkins to bring Bowen to Louisville without informing the school’s compliance office. Dawkins first texted Pitino about Bowen in 2015 and resumed contact about the recruit in 2017, talking about bringing Bowen in for a visit and other schools interested in the player. 

On June 2, 2017, Dawkins texted Pitino with concerns about other schools trying “to influence Bowen’s choice of college” and requesting the coach talk to Bowen’s father.

The next day, Bowen signed with U of L.

“Despite repeatedly being placed on notice and trained by University compliance that he should and must report such matters to them, Pitino never alerted University compliance to the fact that he was communicating with Dawkins,” a former agent, according to the documents filed in federal court Wednesday.

The school accused Pitino of not telling anyone Bowen and Dawkins visited campus or that he had been told other universities had allegedly offered Bowen “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” according to the court records.

And the school claims Pitino discussed Bowen with Adidas executive James Gatto, who is also indicted in the federal pay-to-play scandal.

Pitino has said that the highly touted Bowen was a lucky pick-up for U of L and “fell into our lap.”

But the school argues Pitino was heavily involved in the recruitment.

According to the documents: On June 2, Dawkins texted Pitino indicating that he had concerns about certain third parties trying to influence Bowen’s choice of college, saying: “Coach…do me a favor. Call big Brian [Bowen’s father]. Everything is good. The Nike guys, Wes [presumably William Wesley,

a highly influential sports agent], everyone is hating that [Bowen] chose Louisville. We are 100% good. But I just want him to hear from u.”

"I am not close with this guy Dawkins," Pitino said on the 84 WHAS Thursday. "He's a total scam artist." 

Bowen signed with U of L the next day. 

U of L's argument is a response to Pitino's lawsuit that the university wrongfully fired him. 

The school included part of a deposition with former interim coach and longtime assistant David Padgett, who testified that learning of money being offered to a recruit by other schools would be a "red flag" that would cause him to end the recruitment. 

And U of L argues that Pitino knew or should have known about the stripper scandal involving Katina Powell, calling his claimed lack of knowledge "willful blindness."

"The NCAA described the Escort Scandal as 'common knowledge,' noting that assistant coaches chastised players for poor performance during practice by referencing the fact that “y’all had strippers in there all night."

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Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.