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Nike execs give advice on recruiting to Altman

Two high-ranking basketball executives at Nike offered recruiting advice to the University of Oregon, recommending players and regions for the Ducks to target, according to public records released this week to The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Oregon coach Dana Altman received one email in 2014 from a Nike executive calling for the Ducks to recruit more aggressively in Canada. That email came from George Raveling, a respected college basketball coach turned Nike executive, who in 2010 suggested that Oregon hire Altman.

In April 2017, Altman received an email from a second Nike executive who highlighted two prospects the Ducks could recruit. It came from Lynn Merritt, a Nike official perhaps best known for his role managing basketball megastar LeBron James' brand.

The Oregon coach responded to both messages within minutes, records show. Altman thanked Merritt for identifying the players. He assured Raveling after his 2014 email that Oregon would "keep looking north" in its search for talent.

The emails do not suggest any impropriety by officials at Nike or Oregon. But the records show that Nike executives have the ear and confidence of Altman, who helped guide Oregon to a historic Final Four appearance this year – in large part thanks to players from Canada.

It's not immediately clear if Nike offers similar recruiting advice to other universities or if guidance is limited to Altman. Oregon is well known for its close ties to Nike, the Fortune 100 company based near Beaverton, and to its co-founder, Phil Knight, a university graduate.

Nike did not respond to a request for comment. Jimmy Stanton, a spokesman for Oregon's athletic department, downplayed Nike's interactions with Altman.

"I would say that coaches in all sports receive advice on recruiting and many other aspects about their programs from a wide variety of individuals," Stanton said in an email.

Disclosure of the emails comes in response to a public records request for correspondence between Nike email accounts and Oregon coaches. The request was submitted by ESPN, The Oregonian/OregonLive and other media outlets in the aftermath of a corruption scandal that has upended college basketball.

Federal prosecutors have charged 10 people, including Adidas executive Jim Gatto, in connection with an investigation that alleges improper payments to high school basketball players whom colleges wanted to recruit. Also charged is Merl Code, an Adidas contractor and former Nike employee. Code ran Nike's grassroots basketball division.

Citing sources close to Nike's youth basketball operations, The Oregonian/OregonLive has previously reported that federal investigators asked for information about Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League for blue chip high school prospects.

Nike has negotiated the exclusive right to outfit Oregon and dozens of other collegiate sports teams across America. Oregon's latest deal, which covers 11 years, includes $88 million worth of cash, apparel and shoes from the sports apparel giant.

Nike also stands to benefit financially from Oregon's on-the-court success. Financial records show that in the years when Oregon wins big, merchandise sales spike.

The university records released this week underscore the chummy tie between Nike officials and Oregon basketball coaches.

Over the years, Raveling occasionally emailed Altman and assistant coach Tony Stubblefield. Many of those emails consist of Raveling simply passing along internet links to news stories, without comment, including several sent to Stubblefield this year about the recruiting scandal.

But Raveling, now 80, had plenty to say to Altman in April 2014. In the aftermath of that year's NCAA Tournament, Raveling and several other Nike officials, including Merritt and Code, received an internal email tracking the performance of six collegiate players originally from Canada.

Raveling forwarded the message to Altman and wrote, with one apparent typo:

"Two years ago I strongly recommend that Oregon recruit Canada very aggressively. You guys said you would but that has not been the case!"

Altman responded eight minutes later. Altman said Oregon already had made some "nice transfer additions from Canada" and listed two who had helped the team during a previous season. The University of Oregon redacted those players' names.

Altman went on to list two other players from the current year, also redacted, and pointed to a 6-foot-9-inch incoming freshman.

"Canada has helped us but we need to keep looking north," Altman agreed.

Raveling is Nike's director of international basketball, according to his personal website. Raveling emailed Altman from his Nike account and shared information he obtained from his position at Nike.

Raveling did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Raveling spent more than 20 years as a head basketball coach at Washington State, Iowa and the University of Southern California. When Oregon was searching for a new coach in 2010, Raveling told Oregon's then-athletic director, Pat Kilkenny, to consider hiring Altman, according to media reports.

Under Altman, Oregon has ushered in a new pipeline of Canadian talent.

Two players originally from the Toronto area joined Oregon for the 2011-12 season, Altman's second. Devoe Joseph transferred from Minnesota and became a first-team all-conference selection for Oregon. Olu Ashaolu transferred from Louisiana Tech and started 10 games.

Two years later, two more players with Canadian ties transferred to Oregon. Jason Calliste, originally from Ontario, set the school record for 3-point percentage. Richard Amardi, originally from Toronto, was Oregon's second-leading rebounder.

Then, in August 2014 – four months after Raveling's email to Altman – Oregon hired a new assistant coach, Mike Mennenga. He became the Canadian connection.

Shortly after Mennenga's arrival in Eugene, Dillon Brooks committed. A year later, Mennenga helped recruit Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis, who had known Mennenga for years and was looking for a new home after leaving Villanova.

All three players are from Ontario.

Those players, plus Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey, carried Oregon to a first-ever berth in the modern-day Final Four this past April.

A few weeks after that historic run, Altman received more recruiting advice from a Nike executive.

On April 26, Merritt emailed Altman and Stubblefield to pass along the names of two prospects who caught his eye. Merritt is Nike's vice president of global basketball sports marketing, according to a February news release from the company.

"I saw these two guys play at the Hoop Summit, and thought they'd be a great fit at Oregon," Merritt told the Oregon coaches. "Let me know if you need any additional info."

Merritt passed along the name of Luguentz Dort, from Montreal, and Mohamed Bamba, from New York.

Merritt also provided links of YouTube highlights for each player, plus the names of their Amateur Athletic Union coaches. It also appears that Merritt provided contact info for those coaches and for someone he called a "person of influence." The university redacted portions of the email from the records released Tuesday. Merritt did not respond to a request for comment.

Altman responded enthusiastically to Merritt's email 16 minutes after it arrived.

"Luguentz is a top priority and we will get after Mohamed immediately," Altman replied.

Neither player ultimately signed with the Ducks.