by Kyle Flynn
The case for compensation of Division-I student-athlete intensifies, as an FBI wiretap allegedly discovered discussions of a payment of $100,000 to Arizona forward Deandre Ayton.
ESPN’s Mark Schlabach reported claims that the FBI intercepted telephone conversations between Arizona head coach Sean Miller and agent Christian Dawkins, “a key figure in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption,” as ABC News calls him.
According to the report, 3,000 hours of conversations about the alleged payment to Ayton made by Arizona to ensure he would sign there.
When Dawkins asked Miller whether he should work with assistant coach Emanuel Richardson to finalize the agreement, Miller told Dawkins he should deal directly with him when it came to money, according to sources surrounding the investigation.
Miller did not coach in the first game following the media reports, which was an Arizona overtime loss to Oregon, and he vehemently denied the allegations in his press conference in the days after.
“I have never paid a recruit or prospect or their family or representative to come to Arizona,” Miller said. “I never have and I never will. I have never arranged or directed payment or any improper benefits to a recruit or prospect or their family or representative, and I never will.”
Miller was straight to the point as he continued to back his denial of the alleged payments.
“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. I’m outraged by the media statements that have been made and the acceptance by many that these statements were true. There was no such conversation.”
Dawkins has been charged in the FBI’s case of bribery, conspiracy and fraud in college basketball.
Miller returned to the sidelines on Thursday night against Stanford, and received a standing ovation from the Arizona home fans in the process.
“I really didn’t know what to think about it other than it was very, very emotional,” Miller said.
The Arizona Board of Regents met in an emergency executive session to “receive legal advice regarding the issue and plans to reconvene for updates and legal advice in the coming days.”
The Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team is 23-7 on the season and 13-4 in conference play. They are the 19th ranked team in the country and sit a game ahead of USC for first place in the Pac-12 Conference.
Ayton, a seven-foot-one-inch freshman from the Bahamas, is averaging 19.7 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, and looks to be a lock as a top-five pick in the next NBA Draft. He will remain eligible to play at Arizona despite the allegations.
Ayton’s contributions to the Wildcats this season were good enough to get him nominated as a finalist for the Wooden Award, which recognizes the nation’s most outstanding player.