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Sports agent: ‘Impressions’ of college basketball landscape led me to contact NCSU about Smith

April 17, 2018 GMT

Sports agent Gary Shipman said “impressions” he had about the inner-workings of college basketball led him to contact North Carolina State last fall about the recruitment of top prospect Dennis Smith Jr.

In an interview with WRAL News Tuesday afternoon, Shipman said he believed the “pay for play” model was the norm for top high school recruits as he tried to get involved with representing potential NBA lottery picks.

“I never witnessed it, but coaches that were not involved but knew it was going on and were the ‘losers’ believed it to be rampant,” Shipman said.

When an FBI investigation resulted in the September arrests of 10 agents, coaches and businessman with basketball ties, Shipman said wasn’t surprised.

Shipman said he contacted NC State about Smith not long after the federal charges were announced.

“I thought I should convey those impressions, for whatever purpose they served, to those at NC State,” Shipman said.

NC State didn’t name Shipman but mentioned him Tuesday when it released a timeline detailing how the university responded to the ongoing federal probe into college basketball.

Chancellor Randy Woodson said the school worked proactively to contact and eventually interview Shipman about what he knew of Smith’s recruitment.

Bottom line, Shipman said he believed that the Fayetteville standout ended up at NC State due to “influence by Adidas through Dennis Smith Sr.”

“I was reviewing proposed revisions to the Uniform Athletes Agents Act that seeks to impose an obligation upon agents to inform an institution if they believe that a student-athlete may have received improper benefits,” Shipman said. “I have known the general counsel at NCSU for several years and thought I should share with her my opinions given that the story at Louisville involving Adidas had just broken.”

Shipman didn’t provide any additional information to support his claim and would not provide the names of those who might be involved, the school said, but NC State did pass what information it did get to the Raleigh FBI office, which sent it to the Southern District of New York.

In a letter to Shipman on Oct. 30, 2017, NC State summarized his interview with the school and highlighted the fact that Shipman didn’t provide any proof of payments to Smith.

Shipman said he hasn’t been contacted by the FBI.

“And that’s not surprising,” he said. “I really had nothing but beliefs and opinions and no first-hand knowledge.”

Last week, a superseding indictment filed in the investigation accused James Gatto, Merl Code and Christian Dawkins of facilitating payments to the families of six student-athletes, including Smith, to ensure those players would attend four schools – North Carolina State University, the University of Louisville, the University of Miami and the University of Kansas. The court papers portrayed Gatto, a former executive for Adidas, and some coaches as bad actors, saying the conspiracy included hiding payments and signing forms falsely asserting that no payments had been made.

The indictment accuses Gatto of helping facilitate payments to the family of Dennis Smith Jr. to ensure the top prospect remained committed to the Wolfpack in 2015.

It also alleges that a coach at NC State helped get money from Gatto’s company to Smith’s family.

The coach, labeled Coach-4 in the indictment, is not identified by name, but the indictment said the coach said in or around October 2015 that Smith was “not happy with his decision to attend NC State and was considering de-committing before the 2016-17 college basketball season.”

“Accordingly, and to secure the student-athlete’s willingness to remain committed to the university, Gatto and CC-3 agreed to make a payment of $40,000 to Coach-4, which Coach-4 would in turn deliver to Parent-1,” the indictment says.

Investigators allege that the money was delivered to Coach-4 in North Carolina shortly after. In December 2015, Smith signed a financial aid agreement to play at NC State.

Smith, a Fayetteville native, came to NC State as one of the most highly touted players in his high school class. He played just one year for then-head coach Mark Gottfried before leaving for the NBA. Smith was a first-round draft pick of the Dallas Mavericks.

NC State said last week that it focuses “significant effort” on educating student-athletes, coaches and employees about NCAA regulations.

Woodson reiterated that in his statement Tuesday, saying he was pleased with how the school’s general counsel has handled the process since last fall.

“I’m also pleased with the culture Athletic Director (Debbie) Yow has established at NC State. She has led an intentional and consistent emphasis that all NCAA rules and regulations are always to be followed by all coaches, staff and student-athletes,” Woodson wrote.

“If the allegations from the superseding indictment are proven true, any former employees involved knew they were breaking the rules and chose to keep it hidden. We have no tolerance for those who would choose to damage the reputation of this great university.”

Between the FBI probe and other media reports, violations have been alleged at 28 schools, ranging from businessmen taking recruits’ parents out to lunch to $100,000 payoffs to get them to sign with certain programs; 17 of those teams were in the March Madness bracket. A panel led by Condoleezza Rice is examining the problems and is expected to release a report, and its recommendations, on April 25.

Shipman said he believes a “conscious effort is now going to be made to clean this all up.”

The president of the NCAA has promised action, but said he would not support anything truly game-changing — as in, rules that would fundamentally alter the amateur status of the “student-athletes” whose efforts are the underpinnings of the $1.1 billion the NCAA earned in 2017.

Shipman created a full-service sports agency, Atlantic Sports Management, in 2013. He has practiced law in Wilmington since graduating from Campbell University Law School. He said he got involved with sports as an agent for NFL players but wanted to expand into basketball to represent potential lottery picks with ties to North Carolina. He said he attended at least one AAU event.

″(I) realized that there was a lot more interaction between players and their families and those not involved in amateur athletics than I had previously thought and that – at least in my circles – doesn’t exist in football,” Shipman said.