TUSCON, AZ (AP) – Arizona coach Sean Miller vehemently shot down a report claiming he discussed a six-figure payment to a top recruit and said he looks forward to continuing to coach the team.
ESPN reported last Friday, using anonymous sources, that the FBI had Miller on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to Wildcats freshman Deandre Ayton to attend the school.
“There was no such conversation,” Miller said Thursday. “These statements have damaged me, my family, the university, Deandre Ayton and his incredible family.”
ESPN’s report said Miller was caught on the FBI wiretap discussing the payment for Ayton with Christian Dawkins, a runner for ex-NBA agent Andy Miller.
Ayton and his family denied receiving any money from Dawkins and Miller issued a statement last Saturday saying he was confident he would be vindicated. He took it a step further with his statement on Thursday.
“I cannot remain silent on media reports that have impugned the reputation of me, the university and sullied the name of a tremendous young man, Deandre Ayton,” Miller said. “Let me be very, very clear: I have never discussed with Christian Dawkins paying Deandre Ayton to attend the University of Arizona. In fact, I never spoke to or met Christian Dawkins until after Deandre publicly announced he was coming to our school. Any reporting to the contrary is inaccurate, false and defamatory. I’m outraged by the media statements that have been made and the acceptance by many that these statements were true.”
ESPN said its stands by its reporting on Miller and the FBI investigation.
In his statement on Saturday, Miller said it was in the best interest of the program for him not to coach the team that night at Oregon. He also did not coach the team in practice three days this week, sparking speculation he would step down or be fired.
Miller intimated he would coach the Wildcats on Thursday night against Stanford, though he did not say it outright.
“I have been completely open and transparent, and I look forward to coaching this team as we seek a Pac-12 regular-season championship this week,” he said. “I now intend to turn my focus to basketball, our players and this team.”
The Arizona Board of Regents was set to meet later Thursday to get legal advice and discuss Miller’s contract.
Arizona’s program was ensnared in the federal investigation into college basketball recruiting when it first became public in September.
Wildcats assistant coach Emanuel Richardson was arrested with nine others as part a federal probe alleging that bribes and kickbacks were being used to influence star players’ choices of schools, shoe sponsors, agents and other services like tailors and financial managers. Payments of up to $150,000, supplied by Adidas, were promised to at least three top high school recruits to attend two schools sponsored by the shoe company, according to federal prosecutors.
The probe led to the firing of Louisville coach Rick Pitino after the investigation alleged Adidas executive James Gatto tried to funnel $100,000 to a recruit to attend the school. Details within federal documents made it clear the recruit was Brian Bowen Jr., who has since left Louisville and signed with South Carolina.
Miller said he was once approached about paying a player to attend Arizona, but did not go into specifics.
“The one time someone suggested to me paying a player to come to the University of Arizona, I did not agree to it. It never happened and that player did not come to the University of Arizona,” he said.
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