The defense team in the headline-producing college basketball bribery trial took its turn Friday at questioning the former financial adviser whom the government secretly planted within the sport’s underbelly.
One goal of that cross examination apparently was to bring a new question to the forefront: Exactly who was conning who?
The hoops corruption case centers on two defendants — aspiring agent Christian Dawkins and former Adidas employee Merl Code — and their alleged attempt to bribe college coaches in exchange for influence over players who could be lured to a new sports agency.
One of the coaches identified in the case was Creighton assistant Preston Murphy, who was shown on video in court Thursday picking up an envelope of cash and putting it in his pocket during a 2017 hotel room meeting with Dawkins in Las Vegas. It was a $6,000 bribe, according to the indictment.
But on Friday, the defense team referenced a conversation Dawkins and Murphy had during that same 2017 meeting. Dawkins and Murphy were in the room talking with an undercover FBI agent and Marty Blazer, the government informant who was then still acting as a financial adviser.
And they were all talking about a player who didn’t exist.
According to a published report by ESPN’s Paula Lavigne, Murphy said in the 2017 meeting that he could deliver a potential pro named Marcus Phillips. Creighton did not have a Marcus Phillips on its roster.
Dawkins’ defense attorney, Steve Haney, said during his cross examination of Blazer in the courtroom Friday that after their conversation about the fictitious player, Dawkins and Murphy left the room and laughed together, according to Lavigne’s report.
It would appear that defense attorneys are attempting to raise suspicion among jurors about the actual intent of those involved in this alleged scheme.
Haney wondered aloud Friday if assistant coaches making six figures could really be bribed with a few thousand dollars — and that perhaps Dawkins was just trying to hustle his way into some extra cash, according to Lavigne’s report.
Defense attorneys also argued in pretrial filings that they should be permitted to make claims of entrapment during this case — because they claimed that Dawkins and Code weren’t calling all the shots. The defense wrote in a pretrial motion that the government’s “own undercover agents and cooperating witness solicited Mr. Dawkins’ involvement in a conspiracy they devised to pay bribes to college basketball coaches.”
There will certainly be more twists and turns in this trial, which will continue Monday and could last beyond next week.
Murphy remains suspended from Creighton. He has not been charged with a crime.
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After growing up in Cascade, Iowa, Greg McDermott went on to play at Northern Iowa from 1984-88, earning second-team all-conference honors as a junior.
After serving as an assistant at North Dakota, Greg McDermott got his first head coaching job at Wayne State in 1994. He won 116 games there in six years and led the Wildcats to four straight 20-win seasons.
Greg McDermott took over at his alma mater, Northern Iowa, in April 2001. He made three consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament from 2004-06.
Greg McDermott was introduced as Iowa State's new coach in March 2006, but he struggled to find success in Ames. He left after four seasons with a losing overall record, no NCAA tournament appearances and no better than a seventh-place finish in the Big 12.
Greg McDermott was tabbed in April 2010 to replace Dana Altman as Creighton's next men's basketball coach.
Greg McDermott inherited a Creighton roster in his first season that included experienced veterans like Kenny Lawson and Antoine Young, as well as a mix of talented young players like Grant Gibbs, Gregory Echenique and his son, Doug McDermott.
Greg McDermott led Creighton to a 23-16 overall record in his first season. The Bluejays played in the College Basketball Invitational and lost in the championship series to Oregon and former Bluejay coach Dana Altman.
In 2012, Greg McDermott won his first Missouri Valley tournament title with Creighton, defeating Illinois State by four in the championship game.
The 2011-12 season also featured Creighton's first NCAA tournament victory in a decade. The No. 8-seeded Bluejays defeated Alabama in the first round before falling to North Carolina.
Creighton and Greg McDermott made it back-to-back conference tournament titles in 2013. The Bluejays also won the regular-season championship that season.
Greg McDermott led Creighton back to the NCAA tournament in 2013, this time as a No. 7 seed, and defeated Cincinnati in the opener before getting eliminated by Duke in the second round.
Greg McDermott helped steer Creighton into the Big East, and he made his coaching debut in the conference on Dec. 31, 2013 with a 67-49 victory over Marquette.
Greg McDermott had the opportunity to coach his son, Doug McDermott, for four seasons at Creighton. Doug was a three-time All-American under his father and won the national player of the year award in 2014.
Creighton's third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament ended with another second-round loss. After defeating Louisiana-Lafayette in the opener, CU fell by 30 to Baylor, again falling short of the Sweet 16.
Creighton's first season in the post-Doug McDermott era was a struggle, as the Bluejays limped to a 14-19 overall record — 4-14 in the Big East — under Greg McDermott in 2014-15.
Creighton saw improvement under Greg McDermott in 2015-16, finishing sixth in the Big East with a 9-9 record. The Bluejays made it to the NIT that season, losing to BYU in the quarterfinals.
Greg McDermott led Creighton to its best start in program history during the 2016-17 season. The Bluejays won their first 13 games and were ranked as high as No. 7 nationally before struggling down the stretch.
The late-season struggles continued for Greg McDermott and Creighton into the NCAA tournament. The No. 6-seeded Bluejays fell to Rhode Island in the first round, ending their once-promising season.
Greg McDermott was targeted by Ohio State for its head coaching vacancy, but on June 8, 2017, he announced that he was staying with the Bluejays.
Greg McDermott led Creighton to 21-12 record in 2018. The Jays ended the season with three straight losses, including 72-68 to Providence in the Big East tournament and 69-59 to Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott comforts Marcus Foster near the end of a 69-59 loss to Kansas State in the 2018 NCAA tournament. The loss was the Jays' third straight in the NCAA tournament.