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Deandre Ayton mentioned in testimony during FBI’s college basketball corruption trial

Buffalo v Arizona

BOISE, ID - MARCH 15: Deandre Ayton #13 of the Arizona Wildcats and Jeremy Harris #2 of the Buffalo Bulls battle for the ball during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Taco Bell Arena on March 15, 2018 in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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A former Adidas consultant and AAU coach testified on Wednesday that he made payments to the families of five notable college basketball players -- including the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Deandre Ayton.

As the FBI’s corruption case against college basketball continued in a New York courtroom on Wednesday, T.J. Gassnola -- affiliated with Adidas through the New England Playaz AAU basketball program -- testified that he made payments to players including Ayton, Brian Bowen Jr., N.C. State point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and Kansas’ Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa.

Gassnola testified that he sent $7,000 cash inside of a magazine in an envelope to either Brian Bowen Sr. or associate Christian Dawkins in order for Bowen Jr. to play for the Adidas-sponsored Michigan Mustangs AAU team. Before Gassnola could get into more detailed specifics about the payments to players and their families, the trial broke for the day. Gassnola’s potentially explosive testimony is set to resume on Thursday.

Wednesday’s Gassnola testimony is most notable for the inclusion of Ayton, as this marks the first time during the trial that the No. 1 pick and former Arizona star has been directly mentioned.

Ayton and Arizona have been previously mentioned in the FBI scandal by a report from ESPN’s Mark Schlabach in late February. Arizona head coach Sean Miller has denied those allegations while continuing to coach.

The original ESPN report stated that Miller was caught on a wiretap by the FBI discussing with Dawkins, a runner for ex-NBA agent Andy Miller, a $100,000 payment that was to be made to secure the services of Ayton. Schlabach then made a TV appearance on SportsCenter and said the calls were allegedly made in 2017. After that initial Schlabach TV appearance, the timeline for the alleged phone calls in the original report have come into question. ESPN initially issued a correction that changed some of the dates to 2016 before doubling down and deleting that correction -- implying that 2017 was correct all along.

Nothing has been proven beyond the oft-debated ESPN report with regards to Ayton and/or Arizona, so Thursday’s Gassnola testimony will be fascinating to watch. It’s also worth noting that Gassnola’s dealings were usually with Adidas-affiliated college programs and AAU players. Ayton was a Nike (and formerly Under Armour) grassroots player who went to a Nike-backed school in Arizona.

That means Gassnola’s mention of Ayton might not have anything to even do with Arizona or Ayton’s college commitment. It is totally feasible that Gassnola was trying to pay Ayton’s family to lure the talented big man to an Adidas AAU program as he did by paying cash to the Bowen family. All of this is merely speculation until Thursday’s Gassnola testimony, as we’ll have to wait and see what information he gives up on each of those aforementioned players.

(H/t: Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports)