College basketball corruption trial leaves La Salle assistant coach Kenny Johnson facing uncertainty
La Salle didn't think Kenny Johnson would be a central figure in the NCAA corruption trial when they hired him as Ashley Howard's assistant.
When La Salle hired Kenny Johnson as a basketball assistant under new coach Ashley Howard, the school knew it was taking a chance, since Johnson had been let go at Louisville in the wake of Rick Pitino's dismissal, as federal investigators looked at the circumstances for how a recruit ended up at the school.
That federal case hit the courts in recent weeks, and the bet that La Salle made, that Johnson's name wouldn't be tarnished during the trial, has not paid off.
You can assume La Salle did its due diligence on Johnson in terms of checking on his actions while Pitino's assistant. Explorers athletic director Bill Bradshaw used that exact phrase — "We did significant due diligence before the hire."
This week, Bradshaw said in a text that he otherwise can't comment "on an alleged incident at another university, or on an open legal case to which [La Salle] is not a party."
One way to read that is to assume La Salle will be following what happens at Louisville very closely. As for a timeline, there isn't one, since NCAA president Mark Emmert told USA Today that NCAA investigators would not research any allegations presented in the federal court case until told they could do so by the government.
If La Salle had reason to believe Johnson wouldn't be a target of the federal investigation, it turns out, he wasn't. He wasn't even a witness.
However, La Salle had no way of knowing what direction other testimony would go.
Johnson was not implicated in the central case, that adidas steered money toward a player headed for Louisville. Instead, Brian Bowen Sr., father of the player headed for Louisville, testified that Johnson gave him $1,300 to help pay rent for the elder Bowen's apartment at the Galt House Hotel, one of the fancier addresses in Louisville.
Unless this allegation is proved wrong, La Salle hired a coach who could get Louisville in severe trouble, since that school already was on probation for prior improprieties before Johnson was hired by the school. (You might remember them since they involved strippers.)
It doesn't matter that the father testified that other schools offered far more for the services of the son, or that Johnson, allegedly "flabbergasted" by the request for rent money from the father, told him, "We don't have to pay players at Louisville …"
According to the father's testimony, Johnson also said: "This is the one and only time I am paying you."
Unsubstantiated, but directly from the person who was allegedly paid.
Will the NCAA investigate this claim, along with numerous others that came up in the federal fraud trial?
According to a column by Yahoo's Dan Wetzel that wondered whether Louisville is in danger of suffering the death penalty for Johnson's actions, Bowen's father was asked whether this act by Johnson would have affected his son's eligibility.
Yes, he said, he understood taking money was an NCAA violation.
Until this testimony, La Salle could make the claim that Johnson hadn't been accused of such a violation.
Now that he has, would the school still have hired Johnson after this testimony? Will they keep him? If they do, will the NCAA be asking about a meeting between the assistant coach and the father at a Louisville gas station?
It shouldn't make La Salle feel better that programs from Kansas to LSU to Creighton to Oregon to DePaul have been implicated, with bigger dollar figures bandied about in testimony about the underground hoop economy.
This is new territory. Johnson can deny the allegation against him. Can he disprove it?