Barry Jackson

Why the FBI is a factor in the Miami Hurricanes’ pursuit of a star basketball recruit

University School forward Vernon Carey Jr. during the Hoophall Miami Invitational basketball game against Gulliver Prep last November at American Airlines Arena in Miami. Carey is’s No. 1 prospect in the 2019 class.
University School forward Vernon Carey Jr. during the Hoophall Miami Invitational basketball game against Gulliver Prep last November at American Airlines Arena in Miami. Carey is’s No. 1 prospect in the 2019 class. For the Miami Herald

If UM can sign Fort Lauderdale University School power forward Vernon Carey Jr.,’s top-rated prospect in the 2019 class, it would represent the single biggest recruiting triumph since the Hurricanes basketball program was reinstated in the 1980s.

And UM remains very much in the mix. Miami, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State and North Carolina are his top five, according to his father, former Canes and Dolphins standout football player Vernon Carey.

But here’s a potential problem: The fact Miami was indirectly mentioned in a leaked FBI report will be considered by the younger Carey, his father said.

Even though there has been no direct evidence implicating UM, and even though UM has denied any wrongdoing, the cloud remains over the program.

That cloud “has killed them this year with recruiting,” Carey Sr. told me at Jason Taylor’s charity golf tournament this week.

“They were in on some kids but it killed them. It will probably [enter into Vernon Jr’s thinking] a little bit. He wants to play with other good players.

“Coach [Jim] Larrañaga said they did nothing wrong, but it could take a year or two for it to go away.”

Asked if there’s anything that can be done to clear the cloud over the program, UM president Julio Frenk and athletic director Blake James said there essentially isn’t. The FBI typically does not publicly exonerate people or institutions when it decides to end an investigation or not file charges.

“I believe in Jim and he’s made very clear all along that he said he’s done nothing wrong,” James said. I have full confidence in him as a head coach and have no reason to believe anything other than what Jim said has happened.”

A UM basketball official said the school considers itself a victim here, and that the cloud is one big reason why the Hurricanes haven’t signed a single player in the early signing period.

The good news: Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York dropped federal charges against Jonathan Brad Augustine, a former AAU director in Orlando, who was accused of conspiring with an Adidas representative and other associates to funnel money to persuade one high school player to sign with Miami and two to sign with Louisville.

According to an ESPN report, sources close to the investigation said Augustine’s charges were dismissed because he never gave any bribe money from defendants to the high school player in question. Augustine kept the money for himself, the report said.

Nassir Little, who signed with the University of North Carolina, is the player who was being recruited by Miami. Little and his father signed sworn affidavits saying they never were approached by UM, Augustine or anyone else about receiving money to attend Miami.

Larrañaga’s attorney, Stuart Grossman, said last month that it appears Augustine got money from the shoe company by suggesting, without UM’s or the recruit’s knowledge, that it was needed to steer his player to UM. But he pocketed the money.

An FBI complaint released in September alleged that Augustine accepted $12,700 to steer a Louisville recruit, but was unclear as to whether any payments were ever made toward the $150,000 he and his associates had said were needed to steer the Miami recruit.

The FBI recorded a call in August during which Adidas representative Jim Gatto asked Adidas consultant Merl Code to wait until 2018 to make payments for the Miami recruit.

“I hesitate to say the case against Coach L and Miami blew up because there never was a case,” said Stuart Grossman, an attorney for Larrañaga. “There was never any involvement from UM, Coach Larrañaga, or his assistants. Now, they are dismissing the case against Mr. Augustine, who allegedly said UM was involved, because he intended to keep the money for himself, which further shows UM was not involved.

“We are imploring the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York to end this nonsense as far as it concerns the University of Miami. We’re all for investigating corruption in college basketball, but leave UM alone because they had nothing to do with it.”

For now, the 6-10 Carey mulls his decision.

“Right now, Miami has a good chance,” his father said. “He won’t decide until October. He can run, can shoot, can jump, can put the ball on the floor. He has to work on finishing. But he’s ahead of the game.”

Carey said he has encouraged his son to pick UM “because I will be there more” if he does, but will respect whatever decision his son makes. “He’s the one that has to deal with it,” Carey said.

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