I had a chance to take in an early screening of “The Scheme,” the new HBO documentary on Christian Dawkins — the man at the center of the FBI probe into college basketball — that is set to premiere on March 31.
My main synopsis is this: College basketball diehards who have followed the FBI stuff relatively closely won’t be hit with anything earth-shattering, but will still probably want to watch.
Here are some quick highlights:
—The story is told primarily through the eyes of Dawkins, who probably gets painted with an overly sympathetic brush. Even though he comes off as a mostly reliable narrator, the doc would have carried more weight if it had been able to land an interview with Merl Code or James Gatto or Munish Sood or one of the other major players.
—As far as Louisville stuff is concerned, there’s no gigantic new piece of news that is going to thrust the program back into the spotlight or anything like that.
-The moment the Feds reveal to Dawkins that they’ve been investigating him (which plays out in a totally unnecessarily over-the-top fashion) and he’s in serious trouble, he’s told he needs to give them “Rick Pitino and Andy Miller.” He obviously can’t. When Dawkins says he can give them dirt on Marty Blazer and the “true” shady figures in basketball, the Feds reiterate again that they’re after people like Pitino.
-The only reason the Brian Bowen stuff ever got on the FBI’s radar was because Adidas was late with its payment and Bowen Sr. needed money immediately. If neither of those things are the case, FBI never hears anything about Bowen. A Dawkins puts it, “that was just some bad luck.”
-Of course, there is the requisite one minute segment on how Louisville is everything wrong with college athletics and how it’s ridiculous that the state painted them and the other schools as victims. Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel — the one media member who serves as an interview subject — lays it on pretty thick.
—The FBI in general comes off as bumbling and fairly lucky to have stumbled into anything. Their entire plan was essentially to throw money at Dawkins and company, and then convince them to pay coaches without providing much rationale for why they want to do that. Dawkins, Code and company believe the agents are idiots, are somewhat suspicious that there’s something funny going on, but are taking lots of money from these people so they keep going.
—The big draw comes at the end when you get to hear the wiretapped calls featuring Sean Miller and Will Wade. Not surprisingly, both come off looking extremely bad.
Wade in particular looks rough, as the clip from his presser where he says he never associated with Dawkins leads directly into the audio from his call with Dawkins where he talks about being able to pay Jaron Blossomgame more than he’d make in the G League and then the infamous “strong ass offer” spiel.
Here’s the transcript of that call:
WADE: Hopefully (Jaron) Blossomgame’s not blowing you up too much right now.
DAWKINS: Well listen, I mean [expletive], he could be playing for LSU or some [expletive]. He could have fifth-year eligibility and if he doesn’t get drafted like Randolph Morris or some [expletive] like that.
WADE: We’ll take that. We’ll take it.
DAWKINS: I know you will. I know you will.
WADE: We could compensate him better than the rookie minimum.
DAWKINS (laughing): You probably right about that, too.
WADE: We’d give him more than the the D-League.
DAWKINS: Exactly. Exactly. God bless us all. God bless us all. So, what’s the good word, though?
WADE: All right I was thinking last night on this Smart thing. Like, I’ll be honest with you, I’m [expletive] tired of dealing with the thing. Like I’m just [expletive] sick of dealing with this [expletive]. What do you think, ‘cause I went to him with a [expletive] strong-ass offer about a month ago. [Expletive] strong. Now, the problem was, I know why he didn’t take it now — it was [expletive] tilted toward the family a little bit. But I mean it was a [expletive] hell of a [expletive] offer. Like, hell of an offer. Especially for a kid who’s going to be a two- or three-year kid.
WADE: I’ve made deals for as good a players as him that were [expletive] a lot simpler than this.
Sean Miller’s previously reported call where he talks about Nassire Little and Naz Reid is also played in full. The highlight is he and Dawkins talking about how brazen Wade is about cheating and Miller stating that the LSU head coach “has huge balls.”
—Like I said, if you’ve been following this stuff relatively closely, there’s nothing here that’s going to your blow my mind. If anything, the stupidity from everyone involved and the lunacy of this being a federal case at all is only going to be more apparent. The FBI in particular looks downright silly, and its “we have your playbook” press conference comes off as downright laughable two and-a-half years later.
Still, if you’re a basketball fan who is at all interested in this story, it’s worth two hours of your time.
“The Scheme” premieres at 9 p.m. on March 31 on HBO.