“I knew they weren’t college girls. It was crazy. It was like I was in a strip club,” one of the recruits told ESPN. The players and recruits were granted anonymity by the network in order to avoid any backlash from Louisville fans, players and coaches.
The claims were first aired in a book entitled “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen” by former escort Katrina Powell, who alleges that McGee paid her $10,000 to provide strippers for the dorm parties over the 2010-2014 time period. ESPN interviewed Powell and examined her journals, text messages and phone registers, independently confirming “that text messages sent to Powell to arrange the parties came from McGee’s cellphone,” Barr and Goodman write. The reporters also confirmed a wire transfer of money from McGee to Powell on one occasion.
Powell alleges that McGee told her Cardinals Coach Rick Pitino, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame who led Louisville to the 2013 national title, must have known about the parties.
“I said, ‘Does Pitino know about this?’ And he said, ‘He’s Rick. He knows about everything,’ ” she told ESPN. “Four years, a boatload of recruits, a boatload of dancers, loud music, alcohol, security, cameras, basketball players who came in [to the dorm] at will … ”
When the allegations were first revealed earlier this month, Pitino said he talked to 15 people about the book’s allegations. All of them denied knowing anything about it.
“I am shocked over this,” Pitino said. “My heart is just taken out of my body and broken.”
Pitino’s son, Minnesota Coach Richard Pitino, told ESPN’s Andy Katz on Tuesday that his father was unaware of the parties. Richard Pitino was an assistant at Louisville from 2007 to 2009 and 2011 to 2012.
McGee, now an assistant coach at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, declined comment. He has been placed on administrative leave with pay while the school conducts its own investigation. McGee played for Louisville from 2005 to 2009 and then spent 2010 to 2012 as a graduate assistant under Pitino. He was the program’s director of basketball operations from 2012 to 2014.
Among the strippers who claim to ESPN that they had sex with Louisville players for money are two of Powell’s daughters. Lindsay Powell, 24, says she was paid $100 to have sex with former Louisville point guard Russ Smith, who helped lead the Cardinals to the 2013 national title and now plays for the Memphis Grizzlies. He did not respond to ESPN’s requests for comments.
Rod Ni Powell, 22, says she was paid to have sex with former Louisville player Montrezl Harrell, who is now with the Houston Rockets.
“I don’t know anything about it,” Harrell told the Houston Chronicle earlier this month. “I didn’t too much stay at the dorm. I stayed off campus. I had a girlfriend off campus. … It was pretty shocking that took place, if it did. I’m right there with Coach [Pitino], as shocked as he is.”
Another of the dancers told ESPN that she estimated she was 17 and yet to graduate from high school when she danced at one of the parties in 2010 or 2011.
Louisville and the NCAA are both conducting their own investigations of the allegations.