Arizona’s Miller out against Oregon following wiretap report
Arizona coach Sean Miller sat out the team’s game against Oregon on Saturday night, a day after ESPN, citing anonymous sources, reported he was heard on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to current Wildcats freshman Deandre Ayton.
Arizona associate head coach Lorenzo Romar directed the team, and Ayton played during a 98-93 loss in overtime. Arizona also was without preseason All-America guard Allonzo Trier, who tested positive for the same banned substance that cost him 19 games last season. Trier and Ayton are Arizona’s top two scorers.
Oregon fans taunted Arizona by flashing fake money at tipoff. One held a sign reading, “Where’s Sean?”
“It was just a situation that was tough. Our leader isn’t out there with us. I don’t think we’ve gone out and done anything without him being out there, his presence. So it’s tough,” Romar said.
Romar was told he would be standing in for Miller earlier in the day. He did not know what the Wildcats’ coaching situation would be going forward.
“I believe it is in the best interest of our team that I not coach the game tonight,” Miller said in a statement released before the game. “I continue to fully support the University’s efforts to fully investigate this matter and am confident that I will be vindicated. For now, my thoughts are with our team. They are a great group of young men that will support each other and continue their pursuit of winning a Pac-12 championship.”
The school did not specify why Miller didn’t coach against Oregon or if he will sit out any other games.
The Arizona Board of Regents held an emergency session Saturday and received legal advice on the issue, board chair Bill Ridenour said in a statement. The board will meet again in the coming days.
“This is an emotionally charged issue but it is essential that we move forward decisively and based on facts. We must do everything we can to ensure that our programs are of the highest caliber as we must also protect the rights of all involved and respect due process for employees,” the statement said.
ESPN reported Friday night, citing sources familiar with government evidence, that Miller was heard on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to Ayton to sign with the school. ESPN did not say its reporter heard the audio directly.
Ayton started against Oregon and had 28 points and 18 rebounds in the loss.
“I think he’s handled it like a professional. He’s a high-character guy, really cares about his teammates, and he gives his all, he gives his all regardless,” senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said. “I think the last 24 hours has been quite difficult for him, but he’s handled it like a professional and it’s really good to see.”
Arizona was caught up in the first round of the corruption scandal in September.
Assistant coach Emanuel Richardson was among 10 people arrested as part of a federal probe alleging 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.
Richardson was arrested along with assistant coaches from Southern California, Auburn and Oklahoma State.
Shaquille O’Neal’s son, Shareef, announced Saturday on Twitter that he is opening up his recruitment, citing the problems at Arizona. O’Neal is one of the nation’s top high school recruits and previously committed to Arizona.
“At this time I’m am opening up my recruitment due to the current events with the UofA Bball team,” O’Neal tweeted. “I would like to thank all the coaches for recruiting me. At the time my family and I think it’s in my best interest to look at other options to assure my play in the NCAA next year.”
Trier was declared ineligible this week after a trace amount of a banned substance was discovered during a drug test late last month. The school said it believes the substance Trier unknowingly ingested a year ago, and said the NCAA agreed. Trier did not play in Arizona’s 75-65 win over Oregon State on Thursday.
Ayton’s attorney released a statement to ESPN on Saturday night. It said the family is “outraged and disgusted” by the recent news stories.
“Deandre directly state to the FBI, more than six months ago, that he never discussed or solicited payments from the University of Arizona, or any other university, or any shoe company or anyone on behalf of either — Period,” the statement from attorney Lynden B. Rose said.
Mike Montgomery, former coach at both Stanford and California, is on an NCAA board chaired by Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice which was formed after the scandal broke last fall.
“I’m as disappointed today as I am when it first came out. That hasn’t changed. I am sad to hear Sean Miller is involved. I really like him,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got our recommendations into the NCAA. It’s strictly for the NCAA. Not for the public.”
AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson in Eugene, Oregon, and AP freelancer Rick Eymer in the San Francisco Bay Area contributed to this report.