TEMPE – Although it appeared the storm surrounding the Arizona men’s basketball program had dissipated, new developments have put the program back in the national spotlight.
Amid reports that the NCAA is investigating the UA program, more news broke that prompted the Arizona Board of Regents to add “legal advice and discussion regarding Arizona men’s basketball” to its agenda Thursday.
The Wildcats have begun the process of terminating assistant coach Mark Phelps after he was allegedly caught helping a recruit improve his transcripts, ESPN reported. Phelps joined head coach Sean Miller’s staff in June 2015.
The university said that the decision had nothing to do with the federal criminal proceedings in New York or the NCAA’s review of the case.
Board of Regents chair Ron Shoopman said in a statement after Thursday morning’s meeting that the board supports the decision to suspend Phelps and that it is “confident this decision was made to ensure the utmost integrity and highest standards in the UA men’s basketball program.”
The discussion around Arizona basketball was the last discussed objective on the docket, and the board has met previous times before to seek input on UA men’s basketball. Athletic director Dave Heeke and president Robert C. Robbins have spoken of support for Miller throughout the process.
“The University of Arizona is committed to the highest standards of integrity and ethical conduct and our commitment to those principles is unwavering,” Heeke said in a statement. “The decision to remove Coach Phelps immediately is a direct result of that commitment. We strive to compete within the rules of the NCAA and the Pac-12 Conference, and we will continue to cooperate fully with the NCAA.
“Coach Miller fully supports this decision, which we agree is in the best interests of our men’s basketball program and the university.
One potential hurdle in Phelps’s dismissal is the university’s language for the termination of state employees. In essence, Phelps must be allowed due process and a chance to defend himself, reported Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star.
Miller has only once publicly spoken on the investigation and his alleged role, having denied all wrongdoing. Miller’s Wildcats currently sit tied for six place in the Pac-12 standings, and are slated to welcome the nation’s best recruiting class to Tucson next season.
The recent developments come after another former Arizona assistant, Emanuel “Book” Richardson, recently entered a plea bargain for bribery charges stemming from his arrest in Sept. 2017. Richardson is scheduled for sentencing in U.S. district court on April, 24, as he’s expected to face between 18-24 months in prison, according to the same ESPN report.
Robbins declined to comment on the nature of today’s meetings in Tempe.
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