Duke 'Looking Into' Michael Avenatti's Claim Nike Paid Zion Williamson's Mother

Lawyer Michael Avenatti also took to Twitter to release documents claiming that Nike paid associates of top basketball recruits like Bol Bol and Deandre Ayton.
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Duke says it is "looking into" claims from lawyer Michael Avenatti that Nike paid Duke freshman phenom Zion Williamson's mother, Sharonda Sampson. 

"We are aware of the allegation and, as we would with any compliance matter, are looking into it. Duke is fully committed to compliance with all NCAA rules and regulations," Duke director of athletics Kevin White released a statement to The Chronicle. "Every student-athlete at Duke is reviewed to ensure their eligibility. With regard to men’s basketball: all recruits and their families are thoroughly vetted by Duke in collaboration with the NCAA through the Eligibility Center’s amateurism certification process."

The Chronicle attempted to contact Sampson but did not receive a response.

Avenatti tweeted on Friday alleging the shoe brand paid Sampson for "bogus consulting services" to get Williamson to attend the Nike-sponsored school.

On March 26, Avenatti also tweeted about allegations concerning Nike making payments to get recruits to attend its schools. At the end of his Twitter flurry, he wrote one tweet that simply said, "And Duke..."

When asked about it two days later, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told Yahoo! Sports, "There's nothing there."

Avenatti continued to make more college basketball recruiting allegations on Saturday by releasing documents on Twitter claiming that Nike paid associates of top basketball prospects in 2016 and 2017.

The documents allege that Nike paid either the families or "handlers" of players Bol Bol, Deandre Ayton and Brandon McCoy. Included are bank statements, text messages and fake invoices disguised as business expenses.

Zion Williamson and his mother are not mentioned in the documents.

In the documents, it is claimed that Nike executives Carlton DeBose and Jamal James paid Gary Franklin, a longtime coach of a Los Angeles AAU basketball team, who then used the money to pay other people.

Melvin McDonald, who is described as Ayton's handler, allegedly received money. The documents also claim the center's family was given money for travel expenses. Ayton played for Arizona, a Nike-sponsored school, for one season before being selected by the Suns with the overall first pick of the 2018 NBA draft.

McDonald is also named as Bol's handler in the documents, which claim he received money in connection to the Oregon center. Oregon is affiliated with Nike as well. This spring, Bol declared to enter the 2019 NBA draft.

The documents also allege that money was paid to Shaun Manning, who is called McCoy's handler. McCoy attended UNLV, another Nike-sponsored school, for one season in 2017-18 entering the NBA.

Avenatti tweeted that DeBose "has bribed over 100 high school players over the past four years" to play at schools affiliated with Nike.

Avenatti dared Nike to deny his allegations wrong in his tweets on Friday and Saturday. Nike has not responded to Avenatti, and the brand said it would not discuss his specific claims when contacted by Yahoo! Sports. 

"Nike firmly believes in ethical and fair play, both in business and sports and won’t be commenting further beyond our statement," Nike said in a statement to Yahoo.

Nike elaborated with another statement:

“Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion and aid in his disgraceful attempts to distract from the athletes on the court at the height of the tournament. Nike will continue its cooperation with the government's investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case."

Avenatti was arrested on federal charges of extortion, wire fraud and bank fraud in March. His arrest came after he reportedly tried to extort Nike for $20 million.

He claimed in another thread of tweets on Saturday that Nike "purposely hid payments from the NCAA and fed investigators," seemingly referencing the NCAA college basketball scandal where Adidas allegedly paid recruits to attend schools sponsored by the shoe brand.

Adidas executive Jim Gatto, former Adidas consultant Merl Code and would-be agent Christian Dawkins were sentenced in March after being found guilty of committing wire fraud in the first of three trials related to the scandal.