The FBI visited Baton Rouge to ask about embattled LSU basketball coach Will Wade's recruiting tactics in the weeks after Wade was indefinitely suspended by the university, Yahoo! Sports reported Friday evening, citing anonymous sources.
Wade, 36, was suspended indefinitely March 8, less than a day after Yahoo! Sports and ESPN reported the contents of wiretapped conversations between Wade and federally convicted basketball middleman and aspiring agent Christian Dawkins.
On the call, secretly recorded by the FBI in June 2017, Wade talked about a "strong-ass offer" he'd made for a recruit — believed to be LSU freshman guard Javonte Smart, then a star player at Scotlandville High — and groused about difficulty closing the deal.
Wade refused requests from top LSU officials and NCAA investigators to discuss the reported wiretaps. The coach hasn't disputed the authenticity of the recordings or denied wrongdoing but said the wiretaps "don't begin to tell the full story" in a statement to The Advocate.
At least one federal agent visited Baton Rouge to conduct in-person interviews about Wade in the week after LSU suspended the coach, Yahoo! Sports reported.
The report didn't identify those contacted by federal agents but said the FBI "made clear its interest was speaking specifically about Wade."
The FBI's reported interest in Wade's recruiting tactics, if accurate, could indicate an escalation of a longstanding federal investigation into alleged corruption in college basketball.
The interviews could also involve preparation for an upcoming federal criminal trial against Dawkins, a one-time aspiring agent who brokered cash payments for players and conspired to bribe assistant college coaches, and Merl Code Jr., a former Clemson basketball star who ran Adidas' elite youth basketball programs and also helped funnel money to players and their families.
Federal prosecutors contend the pair, along with several other alleged co-conspirators, defrauded universities by covering up the payments to recruits or their families, which rendered the players ineligible for scholarships under NCAA rules.
Defense attorneys for Dawkins are expected to subpoena Wade as a witness at the trial in an effort to show head coaches at those universities were aware of the payments and tacitly approved of them.
Wade's attorneys and federal prosecutors will likely both seek to block efforts to force the suspended coach to testify.
A spokesperson for the FBI's New Orleans Field Office declined to comment when asked about possible FBI inquiries into Wade's recruiting practices by The Advocate early Friday afternoon, before the Yahoo! Sports story posted.
Michael McGovern, an attorney for Wade, declined to comment.
“If the FBI has been in town, we are not aware of it,” said Robert Munson, senior associate athletic director at LSU, in a statement provided to Yahoo! Sports. “The University has not been contacted.”
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Federal prosecutors unveiled the probe in September 2017 with a number of arrests and much fanfare but haven't made additional arrests since and, at least publicly, have not appeared to expand the scope of the investigation since then.
Wade and LSU basketball haven't been a direct focus of the federal criminal cases. Prosecutors have instead zeroed in on illicit payoffs to recruits at a handful of other universities.
But evidence in the case has nonetheless linked Wade and the Tigers — along with roughly 25 other colleges — to the scandal.
Wade's name first surfaced in the case when defense attorneys at an earlier federal criminal trial attempted to introduce a different wiretapped call about recruiting between Dawkins and Wade.
In that call, a portion of which was read aloud in court, Dawkins spoke to Wade about “a 2019 kid I wanted to recruit" — a reference to Balsa Koprivica, a 7-foot center who later signed with Florida State — that "you would have funded."
Wade told Dawkins he was interested but that “there’s other (expletive) involved in it,” according to court transcripts.
"I have got to shut the door,” Wade told Dawkins, later adding, “Here's my thing. I can get you what you need, but it’s got to work.”
The exact context of the call — and just what was meant by "funded" and "what you need" — wasn't made clear. A federal judge blocked efforts to introduce the wiretap as evidence at that trial.
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Wade's suspension forced the second-year LSU head coach from the bench during the final stretch of the Tigers' most successful basketball season in more than a decade.
Wade missed LSU's regular season finale, a blowout win over Vanderbilt that clinched the outright Southeastern Conference title, and the team's run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.
Wade's future with LSU remains unclear. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva has made clear Wade won't return from his indefinite suspension until he sits down with LSU administrators to answer questions about the wiretaps.
Wade and his attorneys indicated in March that wouldn't happen until the federal investigation concludes. With Dawkins and Code scheduled to go on trial beginning April 22, that's unlikely to happen until late May at the earliest.
LSU officials told The Advocate in mid-March that Wade's indefinite suspension and ongoing refusal to discuss the case — which conflicts with a clause in Wade's contract requiring him to participate in NCAA investigations — couldn't go on indefinitely.
But LSU officials indicated Thursday that talks with Wade's attorneys about a potential interview were progressing, hinting at a possible resolution. Friday's reports, however, may throw yet another wrench into any such plans.
The nearly month-long standoff between suspended LSU basketball coach Will Wade and university officials took a new twist Thursday afternoon.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that an FBI spokesman declined to comment. An earlier version of this story mischaracterized his response.