The following is from THE LAST TEMPTATION OF RICK PITINO by Michael Sokolove, published by arrangement with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Michael Sokolove.
To anyone who has spent time around basketball, Christian Dawkins is a recognizable type. He is the kid who has no game but wants to be involved, so he figures out another way into the action. He knows the good players and can talk to them about their best moves, about some fool they made look bad in a recent game, and some other hotshot on the circuit who thinks too highly of himself. He stokes egos and promotes rivalries—You believe he’s talkin’ that s--- about you?—and serves the purpose of making everything seem bigger. He has the scouting report on the next game, a ride there if you need one, and entry to the party that night.
Dawkins is one of three defendants currently being tried in federal court in lower Manhattan, in the first of three scheduled trials resulting from a wide-ranging FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting revealed a year ago. A central thread in the current case is the recruitment of Brian Bowen Jr., to Louisville—the last recruit of legendary coach Rick Pitino. When Bowen came to visit Louisville with his family in the spring of 2017, they were accompanied by Dawkins, and he sat in on their meeting with the Hall of Fame coach.
The Last Temptation of Rick Pitino
by Michael Sokolove
With the Louisville scandal as an example of a larger problem involving amateurism, illicit payments and a large scale corruption case, Sokolove tells the astonishing inside story of the epic corruption scandal that has rocked the NCAA and exposed the rot and hypocrisy at the heart of big-time college sports.
Dawkins, at the time, was 24 years old and immersed in the business of basketball recruiting in two different ways: as a matchmaker between high school players and college coaches, and as a runner, or go‑between, for agents and financial advisors seeking to sign up players with NBA potential. It is one business, really, because in the one-and-done era, the best players choose a college, play their 30-some NCAA games, and are sitting in the greenroom of the NBA draft, all within a span of about twelve months.
Dawkins could get it all wired on the front end: Negotiate with the college program on behalf of a player, and, for the best ones, get payments into the six figures. Establish the shoe company affiliation. And have the financial team in place for when the kid is ready to jump to the NBA.
He had no college education, but Dawkins could carry himself like he had been through law school. He spoke the language of the boardroom as well as the street. He was, of course, a walking, talking violator of NCAA regulations and a dispenser of “impermissible benefits,” but he dwelled in a realm in which the rules were not followed and not respected as having any moral authority. Not by the recruits themselves. And not by their families, their AAU coaches, or many of the NCAA coaches seeking their services.
The indefensible nature of the NCAA itself, a multibillion‑dollar enterprise resting on a pool of unpaid labor, created a gray market and an opportunity for under-the-table deal making. And it gave power to—and put money in the pockets of—practitioners like Christian Dawkins.
His employer at that time was Andy Miller, a top NBA agent who over the years represented dozens of players, from now-retired stars Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups to current Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis. Dawkins had previously been a recruiter for a firm of financial advisors who represented NBA players, but left that job in rancor and litigation, including an allegation that he somehow ran up $42,000 in Uber bills on the credit card of an NBA player. That’s a lot of rides, but it also gives a sense of Dawkins’s energy and style—constantly in motion and always working.
Agents, especially the older and more settled ones, need runners who can melt into the grassroots scene. Even if the agents were once good at it themselves, they are less likely as the years go on to want to work the sidelines at tournaments and the hotel lobbies at night. White agents are particularly in need of young, African American operatives like Dawkins in what is largely a milieu of black players and their families. Dawkins referred to the young men he had brought to Miller as “my players,” though they were not technically that since he was not a registered NBA agent.
He did not have to go far to find Brian Bowen Jr., because they grew up within a couple of miles of each other and their families were close. Even though he was not much of a player himself, Christian Dawkins came from Saginaw basketball royalty. His father, Lou, was a legendary high school player in the city who went on to play at Tulsa University, where he hit a shot that is still considered the highest moment in his alma mater’s basketball history—a last-second three-pointer that put Tulsa into the Sweet 16 of the 1994 NCAA tournament. It was the first NCAA tournament for his coach, Tubby Smith, who would go on to win an NCAA title at Kentucky.
Lou Dawkins hoped for an NBA career, but when no NBA team drafted him, he returned home and went to work as a teacher and coach at Saginaw High, first paying his dues by working six years as the junior varsity coach. In seven seasons as the varsity coach, he won two state championships and coached eleven players who went on to play Division I basketball. His teams were ranked as high as second in the nation, and he won a couple of Michigan coach of the year honors. When he moved on in 2013 for a job in college coaching—he is now an assistant at Cleveland State—one of his former players who attended the press conference in Saginaw was NBA all-star Draymond Green, who referred to Lou Dawkins as his “teacher, mentor, and father figure.”
Looking at Christian Dawkins through the prism of his family and their accomplishments, it is possible to view him as both an underachiever and an overachiever. His father, in addition to his coaching role at Saginaw, was a teacher and the school’s athletic director. His mother is a high school principal. Christian took a few classes at Kishwaukee College, a two-year school in DeKalb County, Ill., before dropping out. And yet he traveled the nation and world, sat courtside at NBA games, and mixed with multimillionaire athletes. He had the private numbers of NBA general managers in his phone—his phones, actually, as he had three of them—and when he called, they picked up.
His social media posts celebrated this dazzling existence: On his Facebook page is a screen grab of him on ESPN during the 2017 NBA draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. From a fancy‑looking hotel pool, a selfie is captioned, “View from the corner office this morning.” A close‑up of a lobster on a plate at a restaurant in Sint Maarten is tagged, “This is a long way from Red Lobster, slim.”
One of the comments on that post was, “Naw, Cuz, that’s a long way frm Saginaw #proudofyouyoungmn.” That seemed to be a goal of Dawkins—to be, or at least appear to be, a long way from Saginaw even while remaining immersed in its basketball culture.