After six days of silence, University of Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller addressed allegations of impropriety deep inside the confines of McKale Center.
Miller, who was accused of discussing a $100,000 payment to freshman center Deandre Ayton, flatly denied all of the allegations, which were originally reported by ESPN.
In a prepared statement, the ninth-year coach forcefully denied committing any illegal or improper actions during his time in Tucson.
“I have never knowingly violated NCAA rules while serving as head coach of this great program,” Miller said. “I have never paid a recruit or prospect, or their family or representative to come to Arizona. I never have, and I never will. I have never arranged or directed payment or any improper payment to any recruit, or prospect, or their family or their representative, and I never will.”
Miller, whose team captured its fourth Pac-12 regular season conference title in five years on Saturday, refuted the claims made by ESPN that he had discussed a payment with disgraced agent Christian Dawkins.
“Let me be very, very clear. I have never discussed with Christian Dawkins paying Deandre Ayton to attend the University of Arizona,” Miller said. “In fact, I never even met or spoke to Christian Dawkins until after Deandre publicly announced that he was coming to our school. Any reporting to the contrary is inaccurate, false and defamatory.”
Miller received the full support of first-year President Robert C. Robbins and the Arizona Board of Regents later on Thursday.
Robbins squelched any rumors of a coaching change, saying the University stands firmly behind Miller and his staff. Robbins also confirmed that the University investigated the claims made against Miller, interviewing Miller during the week. Robbins and Director of Athletics Dave Heeke vouched for the coach in a released statement, saying Miller answered all questions asked and that they do not believe he committed any NCAA or federal laws.
“While some might be tempted to rush to judgment when there is intense public pressure, due process is the bedrock of fair treatment and acting with integrity,” Robbins said. “With that in mind, we will continue to pursue every avenue of inquiry available to us during an active federal investigation to fully understand the facts. We recognize that investigation is ongoing, and we will continue to be respectful and cooperative through its conclusion.”
Arizona withstands a defiant Cal squad on Senior Day, 66-54
More than 14,000 people sat in a feverish daze during Arizona’s matinee finale against Cal on Saturday.
The crowd which swarmed the blue-clad seats of McKale expecting an easy win over an 8-22 Bears team were treated to a 35-minute rock fight before Arizona pulled away down the stretch.
The Wildcats’ fate turned with 3:20 remaining, when Trier poked the ball free, before racing the other way for an easy basket. That score, which gave Arizona a 59-53 lead, deflated the Bears’ sudden momentum. The shot was the highlight of a 13-1 run over the game’s final five-and-a-half minutes. The Wildcats withstood their final regular season test of a tireless and at times tiresome season, winning 66-54.
The win came on the backs of Ayton, who became the first Wildcat since Al Fleming to score 20 or more points while also pulling down at least 20 rebounds in a game.
Ayton, who finished with a game-high 26 points and 20 rebounds, was joined in double figures by sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, who scored 15 points in what’s likely to be his final game in Tucson.
An exhausted Miller praised his players for tuning out the distractions that have plagued the team, dating back to the FBI’s arrest of former Associate Head Coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson for bribery during the offseason.
“We fought, scratched and clawed all the way through so very gratifying to be able to do it, especially at home in front of our amazing fans,” Miller said. “I can’t imagine that any arena this weekend could have had more pageantry, more electricity than McKale Center.”
Saturday’s victory closes out a 24-7 season for the Wildcats, with a 14-4 record in conference play. Miller knows what happens next, be it this week’s Pac-12 Tournament or next week’s first and second round of the NCAA Tournament, is unpredictable.
He also knows how talented his players are, and that they are more than capable of keeping their attention on the task at hand.
“I love our team, I love those guys,” he said. “They’ve been through an awful lot. Don’t get lost in the shuffle, which you witnessed today, and that is, you saw a player score 26 points and have 20 rebounds in a very low-possession game. You can watch games in McKale for the next 10 years and not see that happen ever again.”