By Ed Odeven
Every year around this time, I remember the day.
It was a so-called normal Tuesday at Arizona State University – classes, meals and newspaper work at the State Press, the student daily.
But that was before an early evening press conference was held in downtown Phoenix. An FBI press conference.
An FBI spokesman told the gathered media, including myself and State Press photographer Pat Shannahan, that the agency’s probe into point-shaving allegations from 1994 involving the Arizona State men’s basketball team, including games against Washington and Washington State, had concluded.
Bruce Gebhardt, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Phoenix office, stated that ASU “is not the subject or focus of the FBI’s investigation.” But that night’s press conference was only a very small part of the story.
Search warrants were prepared. In June 1999, five men, including former ASU guards Isaac Burton and Stevin “Hedake” Smith, were given prison sentences for their role in the scandal.
Ex-ASU student Benny Silman, the man described as the mastermind of the point-shaving scandal, was given a 46-month prison sentence. Smith received a sentence of one year and one day. Burton was given a two-month jail term, six months of home detention, three years’ probation, 200 hours of community service and an $8,000 fine. (A movie about Silman’s life, “Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie,” was later made.)
Bill Frieder, whose tenure as ASU coach was rocked by the scandal, resigned in September 1997. (That brought an end to his unpredictable, free-flowing rants during the weekly news conference, too. That was always one of the highlights of my week as the beat writer.)
The 1996-97 Sun Devils basketball season ended with 10 straight conference losses, and each one seemed to blend into the next. The team went 2-16 in Pac-10 Conference play (10-20 overall) that season. Tough season to report on, compounded by the dark clouds hanging over the program … brought into sharper focus by the FBI.
I’ll never forget where I went on the evening of March 4, 1997 — an FBI press conference, then back to the newsroom to file a story. And later on, I attended a Venezuelan friend’s birthday party.