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Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer 31d

Rick Pitino stresses 'no knowledge' of recruiting scandal, cites lie detector test

Men's College Basketball, Louisville Cardinals

Former Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino reiterated Wednesday that he had "no knowledge" of an alleged payment from a Cardinals assistant coach to the family of high-profile recruit Brian Bowen, citing a lie detector test that Pitino had taken earlier this month.

As part of a wide-ranging interview with ESPN's Jay Bilas, Pitino discussed the events and alleged activities that prompted an FBI investigation and ultimately resulted in his ouster at Louisville.

The Basketball Hall of Fame coach said he takes "full responsibility" for any staff member he hires but also emphasized that he thoroughly vetted his assistant coaches.

On multiple occasions during the interview, Pitino, 65, referred to the lie detector test, which he volunteered to take as a way to again say he was not aware that Bowen's family received payments of $100,000, as alleged. Pitino told Bilas that "one of the toughest things you have to do -- and I hope you never do it -- is take a lie detector test."

"I was asked two questions," Pitino said. "And I said, 'I want you to ask me if any other recruits in my tenure were ever given anything.' And he [the polygraph examiner] said, 'That's not what we're here for. We're here for: Did you have any knowledge of the Bowen family getting any money? Did you have any knowledge of an Adidas transaction?'

"I answered 'absolutely not' on both questions and passed the lie detector test. So I had no knowledge of any of this."

The FBI announced last month that 10 men -- including assistant coaches Tony Evans of Oklahoma State (since fired), Chuck Person of Auburn, Emanuel "Book" Richardson of Arizona and Tony Bland of USC, along with top Adidas executive James Gatto -- were charged with crimes relating to the investigation.

Louisville was not explicitly named in court documents, but interim president Greg Postel confirmed that the school was part of the probe.

Pitino said he was taping a podcast on the morning of Sept. 26 when FBI agents arrested the 10 men. Pitino said an assistant opened the door and told him, "Something has happened." Pitino said FBI agents took one of his coaches from the basketball office to interview him and that another assistant was located at the airport. Then two FBI agents questioned Pitino about what he knew.

"I was flabbergasted," Pitino said. "I couldn't fathom that to be the case. I wanted more facts. I wanted more information."

Pitino said he was called to a meeting the next day with Postel and university board of trustees chairman J. David Grissom. Pitino said Postel and Grissom asked him to resign.

"I said, 'Absolutely not,'" Pitino said. "I said, 'Let's get the facts out here before we rush anything. We were sitting on a great team. We're sitting on a great recruiting class. Let's calm down a little bit here.'"

Pitino was placed on unpaid administrative leave on Sept. 27. Louisville's athletic board voted unanimously on Monday to fire him "for cause," a conclusion Pitino still disputes. The athletic board also voted to fire athletics director Tom Jurich on Wednesday.

Pitino has $44 million remaining in salary and bonuses from a contract extension he signed through the 2025-26 season.

"This is your life," Pitino said. "This is your passion and you don't want your life taken and pulled away from you. I think all these other people reacted the right way, whether it's at Auburn, Arizona, USC and Oklahoma [State]. ... They're collecting all the facts, seeing what's going on. There's only been one school that rushed to judgment and took the coach away from these players and that's Louisville."

On Tuesday, Pitino sued Adidas in U.S. District Court in Louisville, alleging that the apparel company's "outrageous conduct" to funnel money to Bowen's family without his knowledge caused "grave damage to his public and private standing and reputation, causing him extreme embarrassment, humiliation and emotional distress."

Pitino said he believes the university board of trustees leaked a story later reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal last month that revealed that Pitino received 98 percent of the cash -- about $1.5 million annually for five years -- that the university received from its expiring apparel deal with Adidas. The university and an Adidas spokesman told ESPN that a new apparel deal with the school -- a 10-year, $160 million pact announced in late August -- has different terms that earmark nearly all of the money to the school.

"That was leaked by the board of trustees to the president to make me look bad," Pitino said. "I've had a contract with Converse, Nike [and] Adidas. ... That was my endorsement deal with Adidas and had nothing to do with the university. They just leaked that out to try and make me look bad, look greedy ... because I've always had that deal."

Bowen, a five-star freshman who committed to Louisville in early June, was suspended indefinitely shortly after the FBI news broke. Louisville placed assistant coaches Kenny Johnson and Jordan Fair on paid administrative leave earlier this month. The school announced the dismissal of Fair last week.

Pitino said he "casually" knew Christian Dawkins, a former AAU director from Saginaw, Michigan, who was among the men arrested by the FBI last month. Pitino had recruited former Cardinals forward Jaylen Johnson, who had played on Dorian's Pride, an AAU team that Dawkins organized. Pitino said Dawkins called the Cardinals again this past spring and asked them to recruit Bowen.

"I said, 'Why Louisville? I saw him play one time against another young man I was recruiting, and he played for the No. 1 high school team in the nation,'" Pitino recalled of his conversation with Dawkins about Bowen. "We tried to recruit him but he wasn't interested."

Pitino said Bowen, who played at the La Lumiere School in La Porte, Indiana, was going to sign with Arizona but changed his mind when NBA draft prospects Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins returned to the Wildcats.

"He said they wanted to go to Arizona, but Trier and Alkins put their names in the draft and they came back, and now everybody's rosters [are] filled up and he wasn't going to get any playing time," Pitino said. "He saw that [former Louisville player] Donovan Mitchell went pro and he felt that would possibly be a good fit. That was his explanation behind it."

Pitino said he isn't even sure that Bowen knew about the plan to funnel $100,000 to his family to ensure he signed with Louisville.

"I have no factual information on the statement I'm going to make right now: I don't believe Brian Bowen knew a single thing about this," Pitino told Bilas. "I'm totally of the belief that the mom knew nothing about this because of the text message she sent me. Brian Bowen is a terrific young man.

"He fell into our lap in recruiting. Obviously, now with the circumstances behind it, there's more to it than meets the eye. But I believe Brian Bowen chose the University of Louisville because he loved the visit, he loved his future teammates and he wanted to play for me. I don't think he's involved in this in any way. Now, am I being naive? I don't know. I just believe in that young man."

Pitino also denied that Gatto, the director of global sports marketing for basketball at Adidas, ever had helped Louisville sign players by funneling money to their families. Gatto's father, Jim Gatto Sr., was a high school basketball coach in New York, winning more than 500 games at St. John's Prep in Queens.

"I knew Jim Gatto better through his dad," Pitino said. "I knew his dad very well. And I think Jim Gatto is a wonderful man. He's never once ever said, 'I'm going to help you out and pay a kid money,' or do anything like that. Never even brought up anything like that."

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