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Arizona coach denies offering to pay top recruit

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Arizona NCAA college basketball coach Sean Miller gestures during a press conference today in Tucson, Ariz. 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.

Less than two hours before university officials were to meet to discuss his employment today, the Arizona men’s basketball coach, Sean Miller, vehemently pushed back against accusations that he discussed paying a top recruit $100,000.

“I have never knowingly violated NCAA rules while serving as head coach of this great program,” he said in a statement he read to the news media. “I have never paid a recruit, prospect or their family to come to Arizona, and I never will.”

Miller, 49, is among several coaches and players who have been linked to a vast recruiting scandal that is being investigated by federal prosecutors.

An assistant coach under Miller, Emanuel Richardson, who is also known as Book, was arrested in September on charges of bribery. Richardson was one of four Division I assistant coaches named in complaints filed by federal prosecutors in the U.S. Southern District of New York. At the time, it was unclear the extent of what Miller knew about Richardson’s involvement or if Miller himself was involved.

Last year, Miller signed a contract extension with Arizona through March 31, 2022.

The complaint that was made public in September said that Richardson accepted bribes for promising to use his influence to steer his NBA-caliber players to retain the services of financial adviser Munish Sood and former sports agent Christian Dawkins when they became professionals.

Last week, ESPN reported that Miller spoke with Dawkins about paying a top recruit, Deandre Ayton, $100,000 to sign with Arizona. Ayton did join Arizona, and is a front-runner to be selected first in the 2018 NBA draft. The ESPN report, citing anonymous sources, said the conversation between Miller and Dawkins was captured by FBI wiretaps.

Soon after ESPN’s report, Arizona’s Board of Regents announced a meeting for “legal advice and discussion regarding the University of Arizona men’s basketball and the multiple-year employment contract for the head men’s basketball coach.” The meeting, scheduled for Thursday at 4 p.m. ET, is closed to the public.

Miller has not coached the team since ESPN’s report was published. In his statement Thursday, he called the news reports “inaccurate, false and defamatory.”

“These statements have damaged me, my family, the university, Deandre Ayton and his incredible family,” he added.

NCAA rules say that players who are suspected of being ineligible should be held out of competition until they are cleared. Arizona said in a statement that Ayton was eligible to play.

This year, Miller’s base salary is $1.5 million. His contract also outlines additional compensation, which is standard among college coaches, if the team performs well academically and bonuses for winning the regular-season championship and performing well in the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona is No. 19 in the Associated Press rankings with a record of 22-7. The Wildcats will play Stanford tonight. The Wildcats are expected to be given a top-four seeding in a bracket of the NCAA Tournament.

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