On heels of NCAA kickback scandal, Arizona’s Miller to make first public appearance

The University of Arizona is still under a national spotlight after one of its assistant basketball coaches was implicated in a kickback scandal. Coach Sean Miller makes his first public appearance Thursday. (Photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

PHOENIX — Even though a week has passed since news broke of FBI arrests related to an NCAA kickback scandal, the University of Arizona and many of its college basketball peers remain a part of the national discussion.

Wildcats coach Sean Miller will make his first public appearance Thursday when he meets the media to discuss the start of practice. He will “only be responding to basketball-related questions,” a university spokesman said in an email.

Miller remained silent until Tuesday afternoon, when he released a statement via the athletic department:

“I was devastated to learn of the allegations made against Emanuel Richardson. I have expressed to both Dr. Robbins and our athletic director Dave Heeke that I fully support the University’s efforts to fully investigate these allegations.”

University president Robert C. Robbins released a statement hours after Miller did and said the school has hired outside firms to conduct private investigations of the events and that “we support coach Miller and intend to provide him with all of the tools necessary to meet our goals and expectations,”

While the university continues to show support, allegations appear to be impacting the program.

Simisola Shittu, a five-star Canadian power forward in the class of 2018, canceled his Nov. 3 visit to the school, as first reported by zagsblog.com. Canadian forward R.J. Barrett announced on Saturday that his top three schools were Oregon, Kentucky, and Duke. Arizona and Michigan were a part of his original top five.

Bill Frieder, the former head coach at Arizona State and Michigan, said part of the reason programs have problems related to kickbacks and unsavory recruiting tactics is because of the level of talent these athletes have.

“Now, you’re involved with kids coming out of high school that are really ready to go to the NBA talent-wise and they’ve adopted the one-and-done rule,” he said. “So these kids are so important to a program if you’re thinking wins and losses, and that attracts third parties like runners, agents etc, and then that leads to bad things.”

One of the outside firms hired by Arizona is Steptoe & Johnson LLP, whose investigative team is led by former U.S. Attorney for the district of Arizona Paul Charlton. The firm will be investigating allegations against the university that were presented in the federal complaint, along with any issues or concerns that arise from the complaints.

Phoenix-based firm Jackson-Lewis has been hired to deal with NCAA issues that might arise from the federal complaint. Attorneys Gene Marsh and John Long will handle the case. Marsh is a former NCAA chairman on the infractions committee, serving from 1999-2008. Long is a former NCAA compliance officer.

“As head basketball coach at the University of Arizona, I recognize my responsibility is not only to establish a culture of success on the basketball court and in the classroom, but as important, to promote and reinforce a culture of compliance,” Miller said in his statement. “To the best of my ability, I have worked to demonstrate this over the past 8 years and will continue to do so as we move forward.”

Dave Heeke, the athletic director, also released a separate statement in support of Miller.

“As the leader of the Department of Athletics, I expect all of our student-athletes, coaches and staff to act with integrity and character, and I promise that I, along with our staff, will work tirelessly to ensure this department operates with the highest of ethical standards. With basketball practice underway, I ask that you join me in supporting Sean Miller, the staff and our student-athletes as they work towards the start of the season.”

The FBI claims that Richardson took $20,000 in bribes from a sports agent to give to a recruit who is believed to be Jahvon Quinerly. If it can be proven that Quinerly took the money from Richardson and the sports agents, he likely will lose eligibility for his freshman season. If the NCAA decided to impose sanctions, they could do so for things such as failure to monitor NCAA rules.

The federal complaint also states that a former assistant at Arizona, who is believed to be Joe Pasternack, had multiple conversations with the same sports agent who is later accused of working with Richardson to bribe players.

Another part of the federal complaint noted an Adidas representative claiming that Arizona had offered a five-star recruit $150,000 in return for their commitment.

The Wildcats have still not announced a replacement date for a media day that was canceled. Miller is expected to make his first public appearance at Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day in San Francisco on Oct. 11.

The Wildcats are still set to hold their annual Red-Blue game on Oct. 20, and have a home exhibition game scheduled for Nov. 1 against Eastern New Mexico.

Next Tuesday, Richardson is set to make his first court appearance in New York.