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UCLA basketball assistant exchanged calls with key figure in bribery and corruption case

An assistant basketball coach at UCLA exchanged at least eight calls in May 2017 with the middleman at the heart of the federal probe into bribery and corruption in the sport, according to phone records reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

The calls between David Grace, UCLA’s top recruiter for five seasons before his dismissal in April, and Christian Dawkins are the first public link between UCLA and the investigation that has shaken college basketball.

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UCLA said in a statement it was aware of the communication and has “no reason to believe the calls are indicative of any improper conduct …”

Grace, now an assistant at California, declined to comment through a spokesman.

A statement from the school said it wasn’t aware of the calls between Grace and Dawkins, but, mirroring UCLA’s language, added it has “no reason to believe that any improprieties have taken place.”

Neither school has been contacted by federal authorities regarding the case.

A jury in U.S. District Court in New York convicted Dawkins and two other men last month on counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with payments to big-name recruits to influence which college they attended.

Two months of call logs from May 3, 2017, to July 3, 2017, for one of the two cellphones used by Dawkins were entered as evidence during the trial.

Among the more than 3,100 calls Dawkins made or received during the period, The Times found numbers belonging to at least nine head coaches and 14 assistants at major programs in addition to a number of NBA players, front-office personnel, financial advisors, shoe company employees, club team coaches and others.

Tony Bland, the former USC associate head coach indicted last year, is connected to 19 calls. Dawkins made or received scores of other calls from numbers linked to Pac-12 coaches, including Arizona head coach Sean Miller, former Arizona assistant Book Richardson (also indicted last year) and Oregon assistant Tony Stubblefield.

The records also show two calls between Dawkins and a number used by UC Santa Barbara head coach Joe Pasternack, hired by the school in March 2017 after serving as Arizona’s associate head coach, totaling eight minutes in May and June 2017.

The Times didn’t find any other numbers connected to the UCLA or USC coaching staffs in the phone records.

The records show Grace made a late-night call to Dawkins on May 18, 2017, that lasted 15 minutes. A few hours later, according to court records, Dawkins mentioned the conversation during a text message exchange with Brian Bowen, the father of five-star recruit Brian Bowen II. He eventually signed with Louisville but never played a game for the school after the federal investigation became public.

“I spoke to grace … At UCLA,” Dawkins wrote at 12:38 a.m. on May 19.

“What he say?” the father responded.

“I didn’t go that deep yet,” Dawkins wrote. “I wanted to see who they had.”

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He went on to deride UCLA’s big men and praise point guard Aaron Holiday: “I love him.”

The conversation came as Dawkins, a former runner for agent Andy Miller, and financial advisor Munish Sood tried to start a sports management and marketing company. Federal prosecutors accused the men of funneling money to associates of college players in exchange for the players using the company as professionals.

“We want to be a one stop shop for everything,” Dawkins wrote in a September 2017 memo about the company three weeks before being arrested by FBI agents.

After the first conversation, Grace and Dawkins had four calls totaling 19 minutes in May 2017. Three other calls lasted one minute.

Steve Haney, the Michigan-based attorney for Dawkins, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the calls with Grace.

Prosecutors said the FBI wiretapped Dawkins’ phone from June 19, 2017, through Sept. 25, 2017. Only brief excerpts of the wiretaps have been filed in court; phone records for Dawkins beyond the two months of logs entered into evidence haven’t been released either.

Dawkins is scheduled for a second trial in April along with three former assistant coaches: Bland, Richardson and Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans. Sood previously pleaded guilty to three felonies.

UCLA head coach Steve Alford dismissed Grace in April after the Bruins went 21-12, including a loss to St. Bonaventure in an NCAA tournament play-in game.

“This was a tremendous shock, the fact that the job I was given to be as the recruiting coordinator, four of the five years we had top-five recruiting classes,” Grace said at the time. “That didn’t always happen there and it’s definitely a shame.”

The veteran coach denied any connection between the dismissal and the federal investigation.

“I’m going to get a letter from UCLA stating that it had nothing to do with it,” Grace said.

It’s unclear if such a letter was ever provided.

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