The NCAA has indeed began an investigation into the University of Arizona men’s basketball program.
Yahoo Sports reported in February that Arizona was one of several schools facing a formal inquiry from the NCAA as a result of the federal investigation into the world of college basketball. In a Friday response to the Arizona Daily Star, UA for the first time confirmed the presence of an active investigation.
UA responded to the Star following multiple public records requests. In doing so, the school said it would not release records because “investigations” into the basketball program are “ongoing at this time.” In a request for clarification from the Star, a UA spokesman later acknowledged that “an NCAA investigation is underway.”
Arizona’s involvement in the federal corruption case began in September 2017 when Wildcats assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson was arrested and subsequently plead guilty to accepting $20,000 in bribes to direct Arizona basketball players to aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins, who previously worked as a runner for NBA agent Andy Miller.
During the recent trial, which involved Dawkins and former Adidas consultant Merl Code, multiple people alleged — in FBI-recorded conversations and on the witness stand — that Arizona head coach Sean Miller was involved in the paying of players.
In a wiretapped phone call between Richardson and Dawkins, Richardson alleged that Miller was paying or promised to pay $10,000 per month to Deandre Ayton, the star center who ended up being the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. In a call with a business partner, Dawkins alleged that Miller “fronted” a deal to get Ayton to sign with Arizona. In another call between the two, Dawkins tells Richardson that Miller was “taking care of” another UA player, Rawle Alkins.
In another FBI wiretap, Richardson asks for $15,000 from Dawkins and Munish Sood to give to the mother of recruit Jahvon Quinerly so Quinerly’s mother could move to Arizona from New Jersey. Quinerly backed out of his Arizona commitment after Dawkins, Code and others were arrested in September 2017. He subsequently signed with Villanova, but is set to transfer after just one season.
Though he was subpoenaed to appear in court, the presiding judge later ruled that Miller (along with LSU head coach Will Wade) would not have to testify. Miller has long denied any wrongdoing.
Two other Miller assistants, Joe Pasternack and Mark Phelps, have also been involved in alleged improprieties.
Documents viewed by Yahoo Sports show that Pasternack and Dawkins spoke frequently. In the October trial that convicted Code and Dawkins on bribery charges, Brian Bowen Sr., the father of star recruit Brian Bowen Jr., testified that Dawkins told him Pasternack offered $50,000 for Bowen to sign with Arizona. Pasternack is now the head coach at UC Santa Barbara.
In February, Arizona “initiated the process to terminate” Phelps after he was accused of a violation relating to the academic work of former Arizona recruit Shareef O’Neal, the son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal. The younger O’Neal was committed to Arizona but changed his mind amid the FBI probe. He signed with UCLA. Phelps’ contract is set to expire at the end of June.
Miller has been Arizona’s head coach since 2009 and has led the Wildcats to seven NCAA tournament appearances, advancing as far as the Elite Eight three times. The team went 17-15 in 2018-19, the program’s worst record since his first season on campus.
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