Tuesday, during the second of three fraud and bribery trials that the government is bringing against key figures in college basketball, Northwestern came up unexpectedly.
Key witness Marty Blazer, a self-made financial advisor who is testifying against former Arizona assistant coach Brian Dawkins and co-defendant Merl Code Jr., mentioned the Wildcats as one of seven college football teams with players he paid in order to potentially represent them as a financial advisor after they went pro.
The seven programs were Northwestern, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Michigan, Notre Dame, UNC and Alabama. Blazer said that he paid monthly installments of between $100 and $3,000 to family members or associates of players between 2000-2014, but refused to name any names.
The closest he got was detailing a meeting with a Penn State player’s father in the late 2000’s that was set up by a Nittany Lions assistant. From context, the player referenced here appears to be 2009 first round pick Aaron Maybin. Blazer testified that he paid the player’s father $10,000 in a one-time installment, which was later paid back.
Blazer testified he paid $10K in a check to the father of the No. 11 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft out of Penn State. That player (which he didn’t name) was DE Aaron Maybin who was drafted by the Bills. He said the father later paid him back. https://t.co/G9PNrQAHyG— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 23, 2019
He also detailed a similar meeting with representatives of a player that, from context, is almost certainly Hakeem Nicks. Blazer stated that he went on to recruit other North Carolina football players, and that he later “found out he wasn’t the only one paying them.” Each meeting was set up in order for Blazer to attempt to become the financial advisor of the player in question.
Blazer testified he also paid football players from North Carolina & had a relationship w/ a Giants first-round pick.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 23, 2019
‘I went down to North Carolina and developed a relationship and started paying these guys. I wasn’t the only one paying them. There were other agents involved’ https://t.co/G9PNrQAHyG
No other players and coaches were mentioned. Specifically, Blazer did not mention Northwestern outside of listing them as one of the teams that had a player whose representatives he paid.
There is no indication that any Northwestern coach or representative was involved in the payments. In fact, Blazer made it clear that he had never directly paid a coach, and did not mention the involvement of any coaches besides the lone Penn State assistant.
As to who the player could be, Northwestern simply didn’t have a lot of top-end recruits during the key five years between 2009 and 2013, which encompassed both accounts Blazer mentioned and the fraud that he was ultimately arrested for. Blazer made it clear that he paid players only after they were already on campus, seemingly ruling out the standout class of 2014 (the timeline would be incredibly tight).
There weren’t many Wildcats who went pro within the seemingly crucial time frame. In 2012, Jeremy Ebert and Drake Dunsmore, neither of whom were highly touted, went in the seventh round. Two years earlier, Mike Kafka and Corey Wootton (profiled today regarding the story by Teddy Greenstein in the Chicago Tribune) were picked in the fourth round, with Sherrick McManis selected in the fifth.
All three had, to varying degrees, solid NFL careers, with Wootton now a BTN analyst, McManis still playing a role for the Bears, and Kafka the quarterbacks coach for the Chiefs. Though none of them truly fit the profile, they seem like the most likely players Blazer could be referring to.
Another possibility, of course, are the only two first-round draft picks that Northwestern has turned out this century: Luis Castillo in 2005 and Napoleon Harris in 2002. The only other day one or two pick in that time span was Trai Essex as a third-rounder, also in 2005.
Blazer continued his testimony Wednesday, but did not bring up football again. The erstwhile adviser is fully cooperating with the government as he pleads guilty to wire fraud, securities fraud, lying to the SEC, and identity theft. If he is found to be lying or misleading prosecutors within the college basketball trial, he faces a maximum of 67 years in prison.