Capel on Williamson and why he's hopeful about college hoops
The federal trial unfolding in New York City regarding college basketball, shoe companies and payments to recruits has a long reach in the sport, and some of it touched Pitt this week.
In a transcript of a telephone call that was not admitted as evidence in the trial, Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend is in a conversation with Adidas consultant Merl Code, who is charged along with two others with wire fraud in connection to corruption in college basketball.
According to Dan Wetzel, who is covering the trial for Yahoo! Sports, Townsend and Code were discussing the recruitment of the No. 5 prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, Spartanburg, S.C., forward Zion Williamson. Wetzel reported that the transcript included Townsend saying “he asked about some stuff,” to which Code responded, “I know what he’s asking for.”
The conversation continues with Code saying, “He’s asking for opportunities from an occupational perspective, he’s asking for cash in the pocket and he’s asking for housing for him and his family.”
Wetzel pointed out that the context of the call - such as who the pronoun “He” refers to - was not defined in the trial. But the public conclusions were quickly drawn: the transcript, it seems, indicates that Williamson had a price.
Williamson, of course, ended up signing with Duke and is expected to be one of the best players in the country this season. And this ties into Pitt because the Panthers’ new head coach is Jeff Capel - the former Duke assistant who had a direct hand in getting Williamson to the Blue Devils.
“I know Zion’s a great kid. Not a good kid; he’s a great kid,” Capel told Panther-Lair.com on Thursday. “And it’s unfortunate what’s going on, but I know they - I’m sure they have everything under control there and doing whatever they have to do to make sure - I mean, the program at Duke during my seven years and my involvement with it since 1993 and the guy that I worked for that’s still there, I mean, there’s no one with better integrity. Not just in sports, in general. His principles from the military - like, that’s real.
“So it’s unfortunate that the young man’s name was mentioned, and what happens is that everyone’s quick to rush to judgment. That’s the world we live in right now. Just because his name was mentioned doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily true or that there’s anything illegal that’s happened. I just know he’s a great kid and obviously he’s an incredible talented player.”
As the trial in New York City has worked toward its conclusion this week, coaches around the sport have been asked their opinions, including Mike Krzyewski, who recruited Capel to play at Duke and then hired him as an assistant coach.
“I really haven’t followed it that much,” Krzyzewski said Monday at his media day press conference. “I think it’s minute. It’s a blip. It’s not what’s happening.”
While Capel said his focus has primarily been on Pitt, he also isn’t unaware of what’s happening in his sport - either currently in the public display of the trial or what has been going on in the sport for some time.
“I’m not going to say I’m surprised,” Capel said. “It’s unfortunate, because I think we have a great game and I think we have a lot of people in the game that do it the right way. But unfortunately, there’s some that don’t and there’s some things around our game that have not been good.
“My thing is to try to look at the positive: hopefully with some of these things coming to light and things like that, hopefully it cleans our game up and it makes our game better. That’s my hope, because I still think it’s a great game…In some ways I think it’s unfortunate, but my hope is that it helps clean up some of the things that aren’t good.
“Look, this is a business, and any business, I think you look throughout history, where there’s a lot of money involved, you have the potential for some corruption sort of things. Whether it’s government, whether it’s big business, whatever it is, just because this is college, it doesn’t mean that it’s different. It’s business.
“There are some things with our rules, I think, that are old, that need to change. So it’s an interesting time but I think it’s an exciting time because my hope is that it helps us get better as a college basketball family.”
For his part, Capel does believe the latest developments will correct the course that college basketball has been on.
“I am optimistic that it will. I am. I think there are more people that do it right. I think there are more people that do it right and are in it for the right reasons. Just, unfortunately, everyone’s not, and hopefully this brings to light some of that and it makes it more difficult for people that don’t do it right to have success.”