Ayton named in grassroots basketball corruption testimony

Deandre Ayton.

Phoenix Suns centre Deandre Ayton was one of five basketball players named in former ADIDAS consultant Thomas Gassnola’s testimony in federal court in New York on Wednesday.

According to Gassnola, he made a payment of $15,000 to Ayton’s mother in 2015. Ayton was a junior in high school at the time. The payments were intended to steer the prospects to play in either Adidas youth leagues or to commit to an Adidas-sponsored college team.

“I felt bad for his family and wanted to establish the relationship with his family,” Gassnola said.

“These players were either going to our (Adidas) universities or we wanted them to go to our universities.”

Asked by the prosecution why he concealed the payments to the families, Gassnola said, “I didn’t want people to find out.”

Along with Ayton, the other players named in the testimony were Brian Bowen (Louisville), Silvio de Sousa and Billy Preston (Kansas) and Dennis Smith Jr. (N.C. State).

Ayton and the players involved would have been declared ineligible had the payments become public.

Gassnola began working as a grassroots basketball coach in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and eventually set up the New England Playaz Basketball Club, a powerhouse club that was sponsored by Adidas from 2004 – 17. He admitted that he used funds intended for the nonprofit New England Playaz “to pay for personal expenses.”

Ayton’s name also came up earlier this year in the corruption case of University of Arizona head coach Sean Miller, who was said to have discussed a pay-for-play scheme involving Ayton, a  story that Miller adamantly denied. Ayton maintained that neither he nor any member of his family received money or an extra benefit that influenced his decision to attend Arizona.

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