With hoops under federal probe, fans say business as usual
Arenas were packed, fans were cheering and schools were competing.
In most places, it was a typical Saturday of college basketball. There was little visible hangover from the latest developments in the federal investigation of corruption in college basketball.
Coaches were taking the same tact they have been, some saying they’ve found no evidence of wrongdoing and appear to be waiting for the next shoe to drop. Several players still played despite being named in a Yahoo Sports report saying documents showed they had taken impermissible benefits.
Fans, for the most part, were not surprised — with some saying the circumstances have been reality in college hoops for a long time.
Others had fun with it.
At SMU, where the Mustangs were taking on No. 13 Wichita State, some students chanted “FBI! FBI!” and held balloons spelling out the name of the federal agency leading a corruption investigation that has led to 10 arrests of coaches and others alleged to have worked in the seamy underbelly of the sport. One of more than two dozen names mentioned as receiving impermissible benefits in documents in a Yahoo Sports report Friday was former Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet, now with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.
In sentiments echoed by many coaches, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said he didn’t know about the alleged payments but that his program overall has “nothing to hide.”
Utah’s student section mocked Southern California forward Chimezie Metu, who was mentioned in Yahoo’s report but played and scored 14 points to lead the Trojans in a win. The Utah fans displayed signs like “Need Money? Metu! (Me too)” and chanted, “Payroll! Payroll!” whenever he had the ball or returned to the bench.
“When I’m on the court, nothing else matters. I was just out there playing. I wasn’t paying attention to anything anybody else was saying,” Metu said. “I’m not going to lose any focus at all. I didn’t do anything wrong. Nobody in my family did anything wrong. ... For me, there was never a doubt I’d play.”
One school where officials were not enjoying themselves Saturday was Arizona.
Wildcats recruit Shareef O’Neal, son of former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, withdrew his commitment after ESPN reported coach Sean Miller was heard on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to freshman Deandre Ayton to get him to sign with the school.
Arizona announced that Miller would not coach Saturday night in the 14th-ranked Wildcats’ game at Oregon. Associate head coach Lorenzo Romar stood in for Miller, and the Wildcats lost 98-93 in overtime to the Ducks.
It was unclear what the coaching situation at Arizona would be going forward.
“As basketball players, we have a job. And we’re not going to let outsiders, outside noise, let it mistreat us, in a way. We’re just going to keep pushing, keep grinding,” senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said. “We have games to play. We have practices to practice. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”
While Miller was absent, Ayton played and finished with 28 points and 18 rebounds. Oregon fans taunted him with a sign in the image of a check for $100,000.
In Omaha, where Creighton played No. 3 Villanova, the Bluejays were also linked to possible violations.
The Yahoo report said Christian Dawkins, who worked for former agent Andy Miller, may have bought dinner for former Creighton center Justin Patton or his family. Patton signed with Miller’s agency but fired him once Miller was implicated in the probe in September. Creighton coach Greg McDermott has said he didn’t know if Dawkins had a meal with Patton, but knew Dawkins met with Patton because McDermott also attended the meeting.
“So they took him to dinner. Big deal,” said 54-year-old Creighton fan Jim Belgrade, who has been attending games since he was 6. Belgrade said there needs to be a crackdown if money is exchanging hands and that some fans are more concerned than others.
“They will be if it’s a big-time school involved,” Belgrade said. “And there are people who say it’s the rules, and the rules are the rules, so we have to cap it some way. But will fans at Missouri Valley schools be worried about it? Probably not.”
Several players singled out in the report played on Saturday.
Kentucky fans cheered Kevin Knox as usual before he started against Missouri, and the freshman forward did his best to keep things normal. An internal review found no issues and he said afterward, “I was sure I would be able to play all week. I let Kentucky and compliance handle all that.”
Texas held out Eric Davis against Oklahoma while the Longhorns conduct their own investigation, while Alabama’s Collin Sexton started against Arkansas.
At Duke, Wendell Carter Jr. was in the starting lineup after the school said there were no issues with his eligibility. Afterward, Carter said he refused to let it become a distraction “because I know I didn’t do anything. I know my family didn’t do anything.”
The only obvious indication that anything was different was found on the dry-erase board near the Cameron Crazies’ entrance: A Twitter hashtag , #FreeWendell.
“Obviously I was disappointed that a former player was acknowledged in this report,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after the Terrapins were beaten 85-61 by No. 17 Michigan . Former Maryland player Diamond Stone, who played one season for the Terrapins, was also mentioned as receiving an improper loan from an agent.
“I have absolutely zero relationship with that agent or that agency. Wouldn’t know him if he walked into the room today,” Turgeon said.
Michigan guard Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman said he is aware of the scandal, but that’s about as far as it goes.
“We still have to go out there and play the game. People didn’t pay us. I mean, there’s here and there,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “I don’t really think about it. I can’t speak for anyone else.”
Ken Tighe, a Terrapins season-ticket holder since 2002, said college basketball has an issue that needs to be addressed.
“I think the problem is widespread,” Tighe said. “Diamond Stone is part of an attempt by agents to influence the game.”
Michigan coach John Beilein offered a simple solution.
“Educate your players, educate the parents the best that you can,” Beilein said. “When somebody’s offering them something, they’ve got to say no to a Coca-Cola if an agent is talking to them, and they’ve also obviously got to say no to money.”
In Dallas, Jim Randolph — who attended SMU in the late 1960s and was a fan during the 1980s when the football program received the so-called death penalty from the NCAA — said fans expect their teams to do whatever they can to win.
“The entire infrastructure of amateur athletics, especially basketball, is just as dirty as can be,” Randolph said. “So many people have looked the other way for so long. It’s about time it surfaced.”
Dustan Foster of San Angelo, Texas, grew up in Missouri and is a lifelong Kansas fan. The 36-year-old oil field worker attended the eighth-ranked Jayhawks’ game at Texas Tech on Saturday and said he doesn’t know what is going to happen next.
“I don’t even think (NCAA President) Mark Emmert knows at this point,” Foster said. “I don’t think anybody knows. Flip a coin.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright said the scandal has cast a cloud over basketball that everyone in the sport has to work together to remove.
“It’s certainly not a good day for us,” Wright said. “But I do think we have a lot of good people in college basketball, a lot of good things in college basketball that we’re all going to try to work together to get it right again.”
When asked about a line item on an expense report by Dawkins cited by Yahoo that said Dawkins had a meal with “Villanova coaches,” Wright said: “My athletic director has advised me not to respond to it. He will. The athletic department is on top of it and will respond to it.”
AP Sports Writers Eric Olson in Omaha, Nebraska; Joedy McCreary in Durham, North Carolina; Schuyler Dixon in Lubbock, Texas; Anne M. Peterson in Oregon and Gary B. Graves in Lexington, Kentucky; and Associated Press writers Jeff Miller in Dallas and Matthew Coles in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.
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