‘Can Adidas pay for my flight?’ Texts show link with ex-Duke stars Zion, Frank Jackson.

·9 min read

Former Duke basketball stars Zion Williamson and Frank Jackson were among college players a former Adidas consultant admitted under oath he provided airline tickets and other benefits, according to a deposition transcript filed in a South Carolina federal court.

Daniel Cutler, in a sworn deposition taken on March 23 by attorneys for former Louisville player Brian Bowen as part of his civil lawsuit against Adidas, testified that in 2016 he helped arrange flights and hotel accommodations for Williamson and his family to attend an Adidas event while the player was in high school.

Bowen’s lawsuit claims Adidas robbed him of a college career through its criminal enterprise of bribing young athletes and their families. Bowen attended Louisville and South Carolina but never played college basketball because his father, without the younger Bowen’s knowledge, accepted $100,000 from Adidas for his son to go to Louisville.

Cutler worked with Chris Rivers, the former Adidas management official. In a letter filed with the court last month, Adidas attorney William Taft wrote “Rivers may have transferred $3,000 per month to the Williamson family for an unspecified period of time” and “Rivers may have transferred $1,000 to the Williamson family.”

“Adidas does not know the specific purpose of these transfers,” Taft wrote.

The Cutler deposition transcript, obtained by The News & Observer, includes the reading of texts between Cutler and Ryan Falker, who coached a 15-year-old Williamson when he played for the Georgia-based Game Elite team that was sponsored by Adidas.

That text exchange on May 14, 2016, references paying for hotel rooms for Williamson’s family at an unnamed Adidas event. Adidas hosted events on its Gauntlet tour in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago May 27-30, 2016.

“We also officially aren’t putting any parents up, so let’s make sure that we all keep that private, please,” Cutler wrote to Falker in a text read at the deposition.

Details of plane tickets for Zion’s family

Messages between Cutler and Olivia Guidera, then an Adidas marketing assistant manager, detailed purchasing flights for Williamson and his family in July 2016.

“The only options for the young kid and mom are in Delta Comfort for both,” Guidera wrote to Cutler. “And for the dad and Zion -- they only have middle seats, so you might need to put them all in Delta Comfort.”

In the deposition, Colin Ram, one of Bowen’s attorneys, asks Cutler if it was unusual for Adidas to pay for flights for the families of players to their events.

“It would just depend on the event that we were running as to whether or not we were providing transportation for the family or not,” Cutler said. “It could be specifically in reference to, I believe, Adidas Nations or a Prip (sic), which we would have included all parents on.”

The 2016 Adidas summer championship tournament was held in Las Vegas July 20-24, 2016. The Adidas Nations event, featuring top recruits from all over the world, was held in Los Angeles that year from July 29-Aug. 1, 2016.

Adidas described the event on its website as “a multi-faceted international curriculum featuring NBA coaches and players, as well as current collegiate players acting as camp counselors, will provide invaluable insight and first-hand knowledge to the participants, illustrating the pressures, rigors and challenges that accompany the rise of any aspiring NBA star.”

An NCAA violation?

As for providing Adidas products to Williamson, Cutler testified he “never received a request from Zion directly but through Ryan (Falker) I could have.”

Cutler in the deposition said Falker was “one of our program directors, so I would have had no issue to send product to Ryan.”

This was a year before Williamson’s stepfather, Lee Anderson, coached the S.C. Supreme team sponsored by Adidas. Documents related to the Bowen lawsuit allege that Adidas made monthly payments to Anderson in 2016-17.

Payments for expenses related to the travel team don’t affect a player’s eligibility under the NCAA’s amateurism rules. But providing travel accommodations for Williamson’s parents when they aren’t coaching the travel team could mean Williamson was ineligible while playing at Duke by violating amateurism rules.

Williamson played one season for the Blue Devils in 2018-19. He was named ACC player of the year and helped Duke, a Nike-sponsored school, win the ACC championship.

Frank Jackson: ‘Can Adidas pay for my flight?’

In addition to helping the Williamson family, Cutler testified he developed a close relationship with Jackson, a guard from Utah who played one season for Duke in 2016-17 before entering the NBA. He’s currently under a two-way contract to play for the Detroit Pistons and their G League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise.

Cutler testified in the deposition that he purchased flights for Jackson and his girlfriend during the 2016-17 season when Jackson played for the Blue Devils.

In a Sept. 23, 2016 text exchange with Cutler, Jackson asks “Can Adidas pay for my flight… to Utah for fall break?”

Cutler responded, “We can’t but it can magically appear” to which Jackson answered, “I would love that if it did. LOL”

Cutler later said that, while he wasn’t authorized to have Adidas pay for Jackson’s flight, he could pay for it as an “individual person.” That’s what he meant by it “magically” appearing, according to the court documents.

In a Nov. 28, 2016 text exchange, Jackson asked Cutler, “You think you can fly someone out to Duke? Ha ha. If not, no worries at all.”

Jackson went on to ask if Cutler could buy a ticket for his girlfriend to fly to visit him. They agreed on a $600 flight.

“I considered Frank a good friend,” Cutler said in the deposition, “and once he checked with his parents to make sure it was okay, as a friend I decided to purchase the flight.”

Cutler said in the deposition Adidas would not pay for these flights.

Still, paying for the flights could have rendered Jackson ineligible under NCAA rules. However, Duke may not feel repercussions because the NCAA’s statute of limitations in processing cases is four years from the time of the possible violation.

Competition with Nike, Under Armour

While reviewing copies of his 2015 text message conversations with Jackson, Cutler during testimony admitted providing shoes to Jackson “on a number of occasions.”

Cutler said providing these gifts to amateur players was part of the company’s strategy of “product seeding.”

Part of his work for Adidas, Cutler testified, was to build relationships with amateur players and their families that could help Adidas form business deals with them when players turned professional.

“A level of familiarity that the family and player would have when signing with that certain brand,” Cutler said. “Obviously a level of familiarity with the college, but having somebody that they can identify as a trusted person that they can go to if there’s any issues.

“So, you know, if there is an equal offer between Adidas, Nike and Under Armor, if we have a better relationship we would hope that that relationship would be able to carry us in that particular signing.”

Cutler also traded texts in 2016 with Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer about Jackson, although the conversation referenced in the deposition was solely about Jackson’s playing ability.

“The Jackson family is super excited about everything. Spent All Hoops Summit with the whole family,” Cutler wrote to Scheyer on April 14, 2016.

”Yeah. Great people, and Frank is a stud. Thanks,” Scheyer replied.

Cutler responded, “Dude he’s better than anyone realizes.”

Scheyer said, “He is. Really is.”

The only other Duke employee referenced in the texts is when Jackson said he needed to know the airline itinerary for the fall break trip so he could inform his academic advisor, who is not named in the deposition, of his travel plans.

Matthew Hurt’s dad pushes Adidas rep for Kansas offer

A third Duke player, Matthew Hurt, is also mentioned in the deposition but there is no mention of him or his family accepting anything from Cutler or Adidas.

Cutler describes a text conversation between him and Richard Hurt, Matthew’s father, on Aug. 3, 2016, when Richard Hurt inquired about Kansas’ interest in recruiting his son. A high school sophomore at the time, Hurt had already fielded offers from North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA, Wisconsin, Oregon, Nebraska, Ohio State, Minnesota and Xavier.

Richard Hurt expressed frustration that he’s been unable to get any traction with the Kansas staff regarding Matthew Hurt’s recruitment and that Kansas is an “Adidas flagship” school.

“I’m a little surprised based on what coach (Bill) Self said about him and the way he has played,” Hurt wrote to Cutler. Also given the number of 2019’s, they have offered seven. I’m even more surprised that one of them isn’t Matthew.”

Cutler sent Jerrance Howard, then a top assistant coach for Kansas, a text message saying, “I’m getting blitzed by the dad. Is there a reason you guys haven’t offered Matthew Hurt yet?”

Howard responded with “I will get with coach (Self). We will offer today.”

A short time later, Howard texted Cutler saying “Just talked with dad and we offered.”

Bill Self, Coach K visit Hurt

Duke became involved in Hurt’s recruitment the following spring, with coach Mike Krzyzewski visiting with Hurt on April 7, 2017. Duke made an offer to Hurt on July 17, 2017 and Hurt made unofficial visits to Duke and UNC on Oct. 20-21, 2017.

Kansas stayed heavily involved, with Self visiting Hurt on Oct. 23, 2017 and three more times early in 2018 on Jan. 19, Feb. 27 and April 6.

Krzyzewski and UNC coach Roy Williams both visited Hurt on April 5.

Hurt made official visits to UNC (Dec. 15, 2018), Duke (Jan. 19, 2019) and Kansas (Feb. 2, 2019) in addition to Kentucky (Nov. 30, 2018).

Hurt committed to Duke on April 19, 2019, and played two seasons for the Blue Devils. He declared for the NBA draft last month.

Helping other top basketball recruits

Cutler’s and other Adidas consultants’ relationships with college players went beyond Williamson, Hurt and Jackson, according to the deposition.

Immanuel Quickley, who played at Kentucky from 2018-2020 and is currently in his rookie season with the NBA’s New York Knicks, was also named in the deposition.

Cutler said he “absolutely” sent Adidas products to Quickley and his family a part of product seeding.

Cutler testified he paid for Dewan Huell, who has since changed his name to Dewan Hernandez. to go on a cruise during his senior year at Miami Norland High School.

“I believe I paid for his ticket on the boat,” Cutler said. “I don’t believe I gave him money.”

A McDonald’s All-American, Hernandez played for the University of Miami from 2016-18 before being drafted by the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.