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LSU head coach Will Wade coaches in the Tigers' SEC home opener against Alabama, Tuesday, January 8, 2019, at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La. LSU won 88-79.

LSU suspended men’s basketball coach Will Wade “indefinitely” Friday after Wade declined to meet with university officials about comments he reportedly made in a wiretapped phone call with a federally convicted college hoops middleman.

Rabalais: Will Wade saga leaves LSU with no-win situation; can either of them survive this?

Wade, a second-year head coach, has guided the No. 10 Tigers to their strongest season on the court in years but has become increasingly enmeshed in a wide-ranging FBI investigation into college basketball corruption.

LSU assistant coach Tony Benford will take over for Wade in the interim.

Wade's comments on the June 2017 phone calls with Christian Dawkins, a federally indicted former sports agent and Adidas consultant, were reported by Yahoo Sports and ESPN on Thursday.

Wade expressed frustration over the handling of a “strong-ass offer” to a basketball recruit, complained about a handler for the player wanting a “bigger piece of the pie in the deal” and joking about compensating more than the “rookie minimum” in the phone calls secretly recorded by the FBI, according to Yahoo and ESPN.

The player in question appears to be Javonte Smart, then a Scotlandville Magnet High School star and now a standout freshman guard for LSU. The timeframe of the calls coincide with Smart’s high-profile recruitment; Wade refers to “this Smart thing” on the call with Dawkins but doesn’t further identify him.


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The excerpts of the wiretaps quoted by Yahoo and ESPN don’t clarify exactly what sort of “offer” Wade made for Smart or what Wade meant by the handler wanting a “bigger piece of the pie.” But the comments raise the possibility of a financial payoff or other benefits strictly forbidden by NCAA rules.

LSU officials asked Wade to "provide further information and explanation regarding what was reported through the media," Robert Munson, senior associate athletic director at LSU, told The Advocate Friday night. "He respectfully declined to do so, resulting in a suspension until more information can be gathered and reviewed."

"The invitation to meet is still open to coach Wade," Munson said.

A source with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, told The Advocate earlier Friday afternoon that LSU officials felt they had no choice but to suspend Wade after he refused to address questions about the reports.

It hasn't yet been determined whether Smart, who's averaging 11.5 points per game, will start Saturday night's home game against Vanderbilt, the source told The Advocate. The Vanderbilt matchup is the team’s final regular-season game.

LSU President F. King Alexander and athletic director Joe Alleva, in a joint statement announcing Wade’s suspension, said the reports “are without question concerning to all of us” and that Wade would remain suspended “until such time as we can ensure full compliance with the NCAA, as well as institutional policies and standards.”

Alexander and Alleva said the university is “closely coordinating with the NCAA with every step” and said the NCAA has “our full cooperation and we will continue to report to them all facts and information on this matter.”

Munson wouldn’t say whether LSU had an active investigation into Wade or his program before Thursday’s reports. The existence of another wiretapped phone call between Wade and Dawkins discussing a different potential recruit emerged at an October federal trial.

Wade, 36, declined to comment on the reported wiretapped phone calls except to say “they do not begin to tell the full story” in a statement Friday afternoon.

“I understand the university had to take action before all the facts are in,” Wade said, “but I would ask everyone to withhold their judgment until the record is complete.”

Wade called coaching at LSU “the honor of my life” and said he’d focused “from day one” on “building a winning program made up of excellent coaches and staff and a team of first-rate student athletes.”

The university said it has no intention of skipping the postseason.

Southeastern Conference associate commissioner Herb Vincent told The Advocate on Friday that Wade’s suspension would not impact the team’s involvement in the conference tournament, which begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. LSU's first game will be Friday.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey issued a statement supporting LSU’s decision to suspend Wade.

“The information in recent news reports is very disturbing, if true,” Sankey said. “Considering the existing circumstances, LSU has taken appropriate action today while the investigation continues.”

Thursday’s reports aren’t the first time Wade has been linked to an FBI investigation, which rocked college basketball when federal agents arrested several college assistant coaches, sports agents and Adidas executives in 2017.

Court records indicate Dawkins made “at least three calls with a cellphone number belonging to LSU coach Will Wade,” according to an earlier ESPN report, with all three occurring between June 19 and June 30, 2017. Smart announced his commitment to LSU in a tweet on June 30.

Defense attorneys attempted to introduce another wiretapped call between Wade and Dawkins — this one discussing 2019 four-star recruit Balsa Koprivica — as evidence at the October trial for Dawkins and two co-defendants, former Adidas executive Jim Gatto and Adidas consultant Merl Code.

All three were convicted at that trial of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for funneling illegal payments to families of recruits to Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina State.

On that wiretapped call, which a defense attorney read portions of in court but which the judge refused to allow jurors to hear, Dawkins spoke to Wade about “a 2019 kid I wanted to recruit" — a reference to Koprivica, a 7-foot center who later signed with Florida State — that "you would have funded."

Wade told Dawkins he was interested in bringing Koprivica to play at LSU but that “there’s other (expletive) involved in it,” according to court transcripts reviewed by The Advocate.

"I have got to shut the door,” Wade told Dawkins, according to the portion of the call read in court. Wade later added, “Here's my thing. I can get you what you need, but it’s got to work.”

The full context — and what Wade meant by “what you need” — isn’t made explicit in the portion of the call read in court, though both defense attorneys and a federal prosecutor both indicated they believed Dawkins and Wade were referring to payments of some type.

Wade, asked about those wiretapped comments at SEC media days in October, said he and his staff had “never, ever, done business of any kind with Christian Dawkins.”

But Wade, when pressed about whether he had a relationship with Dawkins beyond “doing business,” wouldn’t confirm or deny having conversations with the indicted hoops middleman.

Defense attorneys for Dawkins, Gatto and Code have argued in an effort to undermine the federal government’s case that college coaches and other officials at the universities were aware of and encouraged their efforts to pay off players and their families.

Payments to players, while strictly forbidden by NCAA rules, don’t directly violate federal law. Instead, federal prosecutors have argued the trio — along with others implicated in the scandal — conspired to defraud the universities by landing recruits scholarships they weren’t eligible for because of those payments.

Wade is expected to be forced to testify for the defense at a second federal trial for Dawkins and Code, currently scheduled for April 22 in New York.

University of Arizona coach Sean Miller — who’s been tied to the scandal and whose former assistant, Emanuel “Book” Richardson, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bribery in January — is also expected to testify.

Two other ex-assistant coaches — Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans and the University of Southern California’s Tony Bland — have also pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to commit bribery.

The University of Louisville fired coach Rick Pitino in 2017 because of revelations unearthed by the FBI probe. But the NCAA hasn’t yet leveled any sanctions against the schools implicated in or tied to the wide-ranging investigation, a lengthy list of programs including Kansas, NC State, Auburn, Miami, Alabama, Seton Hall and Maryland, among others.


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Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter, @BrynStole.