College basketball corruption trial: Sean Miller accused of knowingly cheating in FBI video

USATSI

NEW YORK -- Clandestine video played in federal court on Wednesday showed convicted felon Christian Dawkins -- in a discussion with undercover FBI agents -- sharing his belief that Arizona coach Sean Miller cheated while recruiting players.

"And the thing with (former Arizona assistant) Book (Richardson), Arizona is like, Sean Miller has to know everything that's going on," Dawkins is heard saying on the FBI's video capture. "I can call Sean and have a conversation like, this is what's going on. Like, this is what's needing to be done." 

Dawkins goes on to say Miller would "talk on the phone about" illegally recruiting players. 

The video was played as the government's key witness, disgraced former financial advisor Marty Blazer, continued to face direct examination from the prosecution. As the video was run for the jury, with a corresponding transcript provided for all in the courtroom to read, Blazer was asked what he thought Dawkins was saying as the two met -- with others -- to discuss business in on a yacht in New York City on June 6, 2017.

"I understood him to mean that Sean Miller was talking about inappropriate things with recruiting, paying the money and those sorts of things," Blazer said under oath. "Sean Miller was taking care of everything for Deandre Ayton and his family." 

This was the long-awaited inclusion of Miller in this federal exploration of college basketball's seedy underbelly. The Wildcats' coach has been attached to the college basketball scandal since an ESPN report in February of 2018 alleged Miller discussed paying for Ayton on an FBI-tapped phone call with Dawkins. Wednesday did not bring any transcript of that particular call, but it did have Dawkins laying out, via multiple tapped/surveilled conversations, the way college basketball's recruiting world so often works. 

From South Carolina to Georgia to New York, Dawkins was unsuspectingly caught for years having conversations with Blazer and others that would ultimately land him in handcuffs and found guilty of multiple federal crimes in October 2018. This second trial puts him in federal crosshairs once more.

To be clear, while Blazer remains under oath -- his testimony will continue Thursday -- Dawkins' taped conversations are not held to the same standard. They could include truth just as easily as they could boast the bluster of a young man trying to prop up himself and his nascent business objectives. 

Prior to the Miller quotes, much of Wednesday's testimony centered on Dawkins and Blazer's relationship with former college basketball assistant Lamont Evans, who was then at South Carolina. Evans was portrayed as the first assistant to receive monthly payments as high as $4,500 from Blazer and another financial advisor, Munish Sood, who was originally charged in the case. But as Dawkins' employment with sports agency ASM dissolved, he had a vision of starting his own company: Living Out Your Dream management. Or: LOYD, for short. 

And so it was Blazer, working for the government, who stayed in Dawkins' radius and eventually looped in him with a pair of angel investors for LOYD in the spring of 2017. 

But Dawkins, Sood and other college coaches had no idea those investors were undercover officers. The two undercover FBI agents were the ones who brought cash on the yacht in June 2017 to fund Dawkins' venture. It was on that boat when Dawkins, Blazer and Sood laid out their plan: bypass the agents, get in the pockets of the assistant coaches and endear themselves to a business relationship with NBA prospects while they were still in high school. 

Be the first ones in; get wealthy later, loading up on pros as they hit the primes of their NBA careers. 

Evans was initially helpful, but Dawkins used Miller -- the coach at almighty Arizona, along with assistant Book Richardson -- as an ideal target as LOYD prepared for an official launch. Dawkins says the following on the yacht video, paraphrasing Miller's first-person narration on a prior phone call: "I'm taking care of everything myself. I wanna bring you in. I'll turn everything over to you."

The call was allegedly in relation to a scheduled Ayton arrival to the University of Arizona on June 10, 2017.

"If you're gonna fund those kind of guys, man, like, we'd be running college basketball," Dawkins said. 

When Miller was first brought into this saga, during the 2017-18 season, he claimed he never had such a conversation. 

"Let me be very, very clear," Miller said. "I have never discussed with Christian Dawkins paying Deandre Ayton to attend the University of Arizona."

At that press conference, which came after Miller served a brief suspension stemming from ESPN's report, Miller took his denial of the story a step further. 

"I have never knowingly violated NCAA rules while serving as head coach of this great program," he said. "I have never paid a recruit or prospect or their family or representative to come to Arizona. I never have and I never will."

While Blazer, who faces 67 years in prison if he violates the terms of his agreement with the federal government as a cooperating witness, was under oath, Dawkins' quotes came in the cozy environment of a yacht as he secured business contracts. He didn't know then he was in the midst of a federal probe that was building a case against him for two trials that set forth an unchartered course in college basketball. 

Blazer's testimony has been sprawling, if not occasionally rambling and inconsequential, through two days. He's still facing direct examination from the prosecution. The defense expects they'll need a full day with him, and it's unlikely his time under oath will be up before Friday's session concludes. There could still be plenty left to uncover and reveal -- from the prosecution and the defense. 

Dawkins' attorney, Steve Haney, confirmed with CBS Sports on Wednesday that, given the pointed reference to Miller by the prosecution, he will make an argument to Judge Edgardo Ramos to have him reconsider having Miller testify in this case. Ramos ruled against it on Friday, before the start of the trial, but kept open an option for him to reconsider. 

Wednesday was a long day for Blazer, potentially a good day for the defense and, at the very least, a troubling one for Miller. The biggest winner might just be one Rick Pitino. The Hall of Famer was fired at Louisville after his program, already on probation, was caught in this case due to the illicit recruitment of former blue-chip recruit Brian Bowen. 

But on Wednesday, the same video of Dawkins that showed him disparaging Miller's recruiting tactics also had him defending Pitino.

"Rick Pitino may be the only person who doesn't know what's going on," Dawkins said on that yacht in New York's Battery Park on June 6, 2017. "Like, Rick has no clue what's going on at his school. But most bigger guys, they know."

Miller, potentially, even a bit unexpectedly, serves as the biggest point of interest for college athletics in this case once again. An unanticipated five-minute deviation in Blazer's testimony might just be enough to change the course of this trial. Perhaps an answer to that will come on Thursday.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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