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Kyle Kuzma keeps quiet on basketball scandal, but Lonzo Ball says it’s time to pay college players

Often vocal about his belief that college basketball players should be paid, Kyle Kuzma took a step back on Friday and let Lakers teammate Lonzo Ball make the point for him.

“I don’t think it is the right time to really say too much about that with all (the stuff) going on,” Kuzma said.

Ball, however, didn’t hold back.

“Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid,” Ball said Friday morning. “That’s just how it is. Everybody’s getting paid anyway, you might as well make it legal.”

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Kuzma was among the players identified as having been paid by an agent while in college in documents first obtained by Yahoo Sports. The documents are part of an FBI investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball that has already led to the arrests of four assistant coaches, including Tony Bland, formerly of USC.

Expense reports obtained by the FBI detailed payments made to college basketball players and NBA prospects by the high-powered agency ASM Sports.

“I’m aware of it, of course,” Kuzma said of the report. “I am sure everybody is in the country. It is a legal matter. Me and my team and everybody else is gathering information right now, and my main focus is focusing on basketball.”

The documents indicated Kuzma, who played at Utah, was given at least $9,500. Kuzma did not sign with ASM Sports. His agency, Priority Sports and Entertainment, is not part of the investigation.

“I am not going to say anything really,” Kuzma said when asked if the allegation was true. “Just gathering information about it.”

Shortly before the Lakers faced the Dallas Mavericks, Kuzma admitted being named in the investigation was a distraction but later said he was “not at all” concerned about it. Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. was named as having received more than $70,000 in loans from ASM Sports.

“He’s in the NBA now,” said Ball, Kuzma’s closest friend on the team. “He really don’t care. Whatever happened is in the past.”

In the past, Kuzma has been vocal on Twitter about his disagreement with the NCAA’s insistence on amateurism.

“Someone take down the ncaa for generating billions of dollars to only to pay its student athletes a cost of attendance of $900 dollars a month,” Kuzma wrote after news broke that Louisville had to vacate its 2013 championship as a consequence of a sex scandal.

On Friday, as he and his associates worked to understand his involvement in the FBI investigation, Kuzma took a softer tone. Ball and Lakers coach Luke Walton didn’t have the same restraint. Asked if they thought college athletes should be paid, Ball and Walton took strong stances.

“I was fortunate enough that I had my family help pay throughout college, but a lot of them, they’re living on those scholarship checks, check to check as far as paying rent, eating,” said Walton, who played at Arizona. “To me, when there’s that much money involved, the players should be getting a bigger piece of that, as far as being able to live in a nice place, go to a nice restaurant, instead of just fast-food type of places. …

“I haven’t read the reports and all that. Generally speaking, I think athletes at some of the major universities, where the money is big, should be getting more than they get.”

While Ball acknowledged the ubiquitous nature of extra payments to college athletes, he said he didn’t accept money from agents while at UCLA because his father, LaVar, wasn’t interested. LaVar already had begun work on the family brand, Big Baller Brand, during Lonzo’s year at UCLA.

Part of the ethos of Big Baller Brand is to upset the status quo. Lonzo wants to see that happen on the collegiate level.

“Basically just get the NCAA to change and pay players,” Lonzo said. “All the money that you generate, March Madness, you can look at all the numbers. It doesn’t really add up, in my opinion. Hopefully that makes little things just change.”

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Twitter: @taniaganguli


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