Until his arrest by FBI agents nearly two weeks ago, few college basketball fans had probably heard of Christian Dawkins, a relatively unknown figure in the sport who was operating in the murky space between youth and professional basketball.
Friends and former coaches describe Dawkins as a basketball junkie who was staging tournaments and coordinating AAU teams while he was still attending high school. The story of how he became the alleged linchpin in a clandestine FBI investigation into college basketball corruption includes personal tragedy, professional ambition and the all-too-familiar trappings of unethical dealings in amateur basketball.
Dawkins, 25, is charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office with three counts of wire fraud and one count of money-laundering conspiracy, along with James Gatto, director of global sports marketing for Adidas; Merl Code, another Adidas employee; Munish Sood, a financial planner; and Jonathan Brad Augustine, president of The League Initiative and program director of the Adidas-sponsored 1 Family AAU program in Florida.
Dawkins is accused with Gatto, Code and Sood of arranging for payments of $250,000 to three high school players to sign with Adidas-sponsored schools. Federal authorities say he is what's known in the industry as a runner -- he allegedly befriended top college recruits and NBA prospects in hopes of becoming their manager and influencing their choices when it came time for them to pick financial advisers, shoe companies and agents.
While Dawkins largely worked behind the scenes, he was influential enough that he was at the center of a federal lawsuit between LeBron James' former financial adviser and one of the NBA's top agents. Dawkins had relationships with a handful of NBA draft picks, including Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton, Toronto Raptors wing K.J. McDaniels and Memphis Grizzlies forward Jarell Martin, among others.
In a statement, Dawkins' attorney, Steven Haney of Southfield, Michigan, said his client should not be "prematurely condemned based on speculation, accusations and misinformation."
"There is a story to tell here, and that story is one decades long," Haney said.
Dawkins grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, a Rust Belt city of about 49,000 residents, which is about 100 miles northwest of Detroit. His father, Lou Dawkins, was the popular basketball coach at Saginaw High School, and his mother, Latricia Vaughn-Dawkins, was a principal.
"He was really a basketball guy," said Paul Carmona, who coached an AAU team for Dawkins in Saginaw. "He loved basketball. I think he realized at an early age in high school that he wasn't going to get it done as a player, so he was interested in becoming a team manager, director or other things."
With future Michigan State and Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green leading the Trojans, Saginaw High went a combined 53-2 and won Class A state championships in 2007 and '08. When Green left for Michigan State, the Trojans waited on Dawkins' younger brother, Dorian, to replace him as the team's next star.
Dorian Dawkins was regarded as one of the country's best rising freshmen in 2009. During his first game as an eighth-grader, he had 36 points, 22 assists and 20 steals -- and didn't play during the fourth quarter. He was so talented that his teammates and friends called him "The Future." He loved ice cream and playing chess and the flute. His dream was play to point guard for the Spartans.
"He had NBA lottery pick written all over him," Carmona said.
Tragically, Dorian Dawkins never even made it to high school. During a summer league tournament at Michigan State on June 12, 2009, he collapsed at the free throw line and was rushed to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan. Christian Dawkins rushed onto the court when his younger brother collapsed and rode in the ambulance with him to the hospital.
"He just said that he was hurting, and he didn't know what was going on and just to call Momma and Daddy," Dawkins told USA Today High School Sports in June 2013.
Dorian Dawkins died later that night. He was 14. Spartans coach Tom Izzo joined the Dawkins family at the hospital. An autopsy revealed that Dorian had suffered a series of heart attacks caused by a rare birth defect.
"When he died, I died," Lou Dawkins told USA Today High School Sports.
Christian Dawkins had enrolled at St. Mark's School in Southborough, Massachusetts, one of the top prep schools in New England, in 2008 and spent one season playing for Dave Lubick. The coach met Dawkins while taking his son, Nate, to Michigan's elite camp.
"He was charismatic as a kid, a character," Dave Lubick told ESPN. "He didn't play much and wasn't much of a basketball player. He was always more interested in evaluation. He was very interested in basketball, but he had no interest in playing basketball."
Lubick said that Dawkins struggled with the adjustment academically and went back home after just one year at St. Mark's.
During Dawkins' senior season at Saginaw High in 2009-10, he organized and staged the Dorian Dawkins Show Your Heart Memorial Classic at Delta College in Saginaw.
"When [Dorian] first passed, I heard a saying, 'A person never dies unless they are forgotten,'" Dawkins told MaxPreps.com in February 2010. "I will never, ever forget him."
Around the same time, Dawkins also took over the AAU team that his father had started and was writing scouting reports and recruiting updates for a college basketball blog. He persuaded Carmona, another AAU coach from Saginaw, to join forces with him and bring his roster.
Carmona's team was loaded -- Josh Jackson (Kansas, Phoenix Suns), Kyle Kuzma (Utah, Los Angeles Lakers) and Jaylen Johnson (Louisville, Chicago Bulls) were on the team. Brian Bowen, a younger player from Arthur Hill High in Saginaw, and A.J. Turner, from De La Salle Collegiate High School in Warren, Michigan, who would go on to play at Boston College and then transfer to Northwestern, were also on the roster.
Dawkins renamed the team Dorian's Pride in honor of his late brother and landed Adidas as a sponsor.
In an interview with ESPN, Carmona said that he coached the players and Dawkins worked as team director, helping raise money for uniforms and travel expenses. Dawkins set the team's schedule, which mostly included tournaments in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. After about 18 months, however, Carmona said the team was running out of money. He took his players and left for The Family, a more established AAU organization that was sponsored by Nike in Detroit.
"The money just wasn't there," Carmona said. "I knew I had to keep my players on a big stage, or another AAU team was going to grab them. The team was a little unorganized, and I didn't think it was the best situation for my kids."
Lou Dawkins and his family left Saginaw after former Michigan State assistant Mark Montgomery hired him as an assistant at Northern Illinois in April 2011.
"He was a very smart kid, and probably got into it for the right reasons," Montgomery said of Christian Dawkins. "But he was moving so fast."
Lou Dawkins spent six seasons with the Huskies until new Cleveland State coach Dennis Felton hired him in April.
By April 2014, Christian Dawkins was working as a runner for International Management Advisors, a Cleveland-based firm founded by former IMG employee Kurt Schoeppler. At one time, Schoeppler worked as NBA star LeBron James' financial adviser and was the controller listed on federal tax returns for the LeBron James Family Foundation.
In a May 2016 complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Schoeppler accused Dawkins of working for ASM Sports, an organization run by agent Andy Miller, at the same time he was working for IMA. In the complaint against ASM and Miller, IMA's attorneys wrote that the firm had hired Dawkins as executive director of sports and entertainment in April 2014.
"He was a very smart kid, and probably got into it for the right reasons. But he was moving so fast."Former Michigan State assistant coach Mark Montgomery, on Christian Dawkins
According to an employment agreement obtained by ESPN, Dawkins was paid an annual salary of $50,000, and IMA agreed to pay his expenses incurred while recruiting NBA draft prospects.
By January 2015, according to the complaint, "It became apparent that Dawkins was actually representing ASM's interests, not IMA's, when interacting with prospects, and he could no longer be trusted. ... Thus, IMA began discussions with Dawkins to terminate his employment."
Schoeppler declined comment when he was reached by ESPN last week. Miller didn't return several phone calls from ESPN.
During negotiations to end Dawkins' employment, the lawsuit said, IMA calculated that Dawkins owed the firm $61,700 for improper expenditures. IMA and Dawkins agreed that he would sign a promissory note to repay the money, and IMA agreed to release him from certain noncompetition clauses in his contract.
Dawkins signed the termination agreement on Feb. 24, 2015, but never signed the promissory note, which was one of IMA's conditions for allowing him to join Miller's firm, the lawsuit said.
Miller and Schoeppler settled their lawsuit on Sept. 15, 2016, according to court records. Terms of the settlement were undisclosed.
IMA also alleged that Dawkins "stole the credit card number for an American Express card belonging to IMA issued to Elfrid Payton, a client of IMA." Payton, who played at Louisiana-Lafayette from 2011 to 2014, was the No. 10 pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2014 NBA draft. He was traded to the Orlando Magic on draft night.
In a June 2, 2016, letter to Payton, which was obtained by ESPN, Dawkins wrote that he never "stole your American Express card number, or any other personal financial information. The information was provided to me so that I could assist you and your family in making various travel and other arrangements."
An investigation by the National Basketball Players Association earlier this year discovered that Dawkins used Payton's credit card to charge more $42,000 in Uber rides between 2015 and 2016 and that Payton authorized only a few trips. ASM fired Dawkins in May, according to published reports.
Elfrid Payton Sr., the player's father, told ESPN that IMA reimbursed his son for the credit card charges and that Dawkins didn't have permission to use the card. He said he was introduced to Dawkins by a third party and advised his son to use him as a financial planner.
"Kurt had this business, but he didn't know anything about the NBA," Payton Sr. said. "Christian was on the financial side when we met him. Kurt is a reputable guy. He didn't know Christian was doing this."
Although Dawkins was fired by Miller in May, multiple sources told ESPN that he was still working with Miller. He helped sign Justin Patton (Creighton) and Edmond Sumner (Xavier), who were both drafted this past June, and one source said that Dawkins was the point man through the NBA draft for Sumner. Both Patton and Sumner severed ties with ASM in the days after Dawkins was arrested.
The FBI's allegations against Dawkins are potentially much more damaging. According to the U.S. attorney's complaint, Gatto, Code, Dawkins and Sood worked together to funnel $100,000 to an unnamed high school player in early June, and Dawkins told the others that he did so at the request of a Louisville coach. "Player-10," who is described in the complaint as a top recruit, is believed to be Brian Bowen, who played on Dorian's Pride. Bowen, who left Saginaw and played at the La Lumiere School in La Porte, Indiana, signed with Louisville on June 5.
The complaint said another high school player was paid to sign with the Cardinals and that Adidas paid the money by funneling it through Augustine.
The allegations surrounding Bowen's recruitment led to longtime basketball coach Rick Pitino being placed on unpaid administrative leave and athletic director Tom Jurich being put on paid administrative leave. Bowen was placed on indefinite suspension.
Dawkins was arrested by FBI agents in New York and released last week. He and the others are scheduled for arraignment in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday.
"I always thought one day he'd be an NBA general manager or something like that," Carmona said. "I thought he'd do some big things, nothing like this stuff."