Arizona Coach Sean Miller unequivocally denied accusations that he paid star freshman center Deandre Ayton to play basketball at the university in a fiery statement he delivered Thursday in Tuscon.
“Let me be very, very clear: I have never discussed with [sports agent] Christian Dawkins paying Deandre Ayton to attend the University of Arizona,” Miller said.
He called reports to the contrary, including one by ESPN last week that alleged federal investigators caught Miller arranging a $100,000 payment to Ayton, “defamatory.”
Since that report, Miller has insisted he “will be vindicated” by investigations into the team by the university and the FBI. The NCAA has not yet announced a formal investigation into the corruption scandal that has implicated several programs.
Miller said Thursday that he has never knowingly violated NCAA rules as the Wildcats’ coach, a job he has held since 2009. He said he has never paid a recruit, a recruit’s family or a representative to attract that prospect to Arizona.
“I never have, and I never will,” he said.
“The one time that someone suggested to me paying a player to come to the University of Arizona, I did not agree to it,” he added. “It never happened, and that player did not come to the University of Arizona.”
He declined to name the player or who recommended he offer the recruit money. Miller did not take questions after his five-minute statement, which he read while periodically looking up at cameras and reporters.
Miller did not coach the No. 19 Wildcats’ most recent game, an overtime loss at Oregon on Saturday, and he did not make clear when he would return to the sideline. He said he intended to “turn my focus to basketball” as Arizona enters the postseason. The Wildcats have two regular season games remaining, including Thursday night against visiting Stanford. The Pac-12 Conference tournament begins next Wednesday in Las Vegas. With a 22-7 record, Arizona is all but certain to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
University officials have maintained Ayton is eligible to play. The 7-foot-1 center averages 19.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. He was named Wednesday as one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy as the national college player of the year.
The Arizona Board of Regents scheduled a meeting for Thursday afternoon to discuss Miller’s contract, which runs through 2021-22.
One regent, Jay Heiler, called the ESPN report “frankly unacceptable” and “less than solid journalism,” according to the Arizona Republic.
University President Robert C. Robbins told the Arizona Daily Star on Wednesday that the university was “still working on things” and would “have more to say later” regarding Miller’s contract, but he declined to elaborate.
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