The cornerstone of the Wildcats’ 2018 recruiting class decommitted on the eve of Arizona’s annual preseason basketball celebration.
Five-star New Jersey point guard Jahvon Quinerly announced his decommitment on Twitter, just over three weeks after he was referenced in the FBI’s sweeping investigation into college basketball.
A federal complaint quotes a sports agent as saying Quinerly “was the guy with the 15 grand we gave him” through UA assistant coach Book Richardson.
If Quinerly is found to have taken an amount that large, he most likely would not be eligible to play as a freshman anyway, according to attorneys who work with schools facing NCAA violations.
“After careful consideration, my family and I have determined it is in my best interest to retract my verbal commitment to the University of Arizona,” Quinerly’s statement said. “I’d like to thank my extended family and fans for your continued love and support. Your positivity and kindness never goes unnoticed.”
Quinerly told ESPN earlier this month that he was committed to the Wildcats “for now” but declined to say if he accepted the money.
Richardson faces federal bribery and fraud charges after he was alleged to have taken $20,000 in bribes in June and July from an agent. Documents say he filtered at least most of it to Quinerly, who committed to the Wildcats in early August.
Quinerly’s decision to decommit comes as no surprise, given that his eligibility might be at stake anyway — and considering Arizona’s preseason has been anything but normal since the FBI investigation became public Sept. 26.
Already, three top 2018 Arizona targets — R.J. Barrett, Simi Shittu and Nassir Little — have chosen to commit elsewhere. Quinerly’s decommitment leaves Arizona with two remaining recruits so far in the class of 2108: guard Brandon Williams and forward Shareef O’Neal.
Williams, O’Neal and four younger recruiting targets are scheduled to be on hand Friday at Arizona’s annual Red-Blue Game, which has become a critical recruiting event for the Wildcats in the Sean Miller era.
Neither Williams nor O’Neal have spoken to media since Sept. 26, but both gave indications on Twitter that they are excited about Friday’s event. (Williams’ father, Chris Wright, also confirmed his son will attend.)
“Official visit to Arizona Friday!” Williams tweeted, with red and blue dot emojis.
“SEEE YOU TOMORROW” O’Neal posted, adding bear and download emojis — shorthand for “bear down” — and a red heart.
The Wildcats are scheduled to visit with four-star 2019 guard Josh Green, five-star 2020 guard Nico Mannion, five-star 2020 forward (and football prospect) Jason Harris and five-star 2020 guard Josh Christopher.
Ryan Silver, director of the West Coast Elite club team, confirmed that Green, Mannion and Harris will attend the Red-Blue Game, while Christopher retweeted a report from recruiting analyst Pat Lawless that he would visit for the weekend.
For Arizona, it will be an important dip back into a recruiting world that hasn’t been easy for anyone since Sept. 26.
Charlie Wilde, Mannion’s coach at Phoenix Pinnacle High School, said he’s noticed a drop-off in the normal number of college coaches visiting during the open recruiting period this fall despite having a number of college prospects on his team.
“Every coach just kind of stopped for a week,” Wilde said. “It’s not just Arizona, it’s even the smaller schools. Everybody was just kind of shaken by the whole thing.”
Even though he’s more than two years from having to sign a letter of intent, Mannion and his family were affected, too.
Mannion, who also visited the Wildcats for last season’s Red-Blue Game, has kept up with UA coaches and others recruiting him while his family waits to see what unfolds.
“They’re wonderful people and they’re treating everybody with respect and listening to everybody’s pitch,” Wilde said.
“It’s kind of wait and see (with the FBI). I think they’ll have questions for anybody who comes in and talks to them. It just opened everyone’s eyes a little bit on what’s going on. I think it just made them more aware.”
In Arizona’s case, the FBI investigation has changed a lot.
At Pac-12 media day last week, instead of mostly answering questions about his loaded team, Miller faced several minutes of rapid-fire questions about Richardson’s alleged actions, the FBI, and a head coach’s responsibilities. Miller answered repeatedly by saying he stood behind a statement saying he supports investigations into the allegations and that he’s long fostered an atmosphere of compliance.
In addition, national media reports about college basketball’s issues, including the allegations against Arizona, have been nearly nonstop in the past few weeks.
Then, on Thursday, the Wildcats were ranked only No. 5 in the USA Today preseason coaches Top 25 poll. While it is possible the broken foot of starter Rawle Alkins lowered the opinions of Arizona in some voters’ eyes, the FBI investigation also may be a factor.
One coach, Idaho State’s Bill Evans, told USA Today that he did not vote for any of the teams implicated in the FBI allegations, which alone knocked UA’s score down.
Evans told USA Today there has been talk within the National Association of Basketball Coaches about “holding one another accountable,” a factor he said affected his vote.
It’s the third straight season the Wildcats are facing off-court controversy. In 2015-16, forward Elliott Pitts sat out for two months in midseason because of what Miller called a “personal issue” before leaving school in February, shortly after a university investigation resulted in a suspension for sexual misconduct.
Last fall, speculation surrounded guard Allonzo Trier after a positive PED test in the preseason, and UA would not comment on his absence for the first 18 of the 19 games he missed.
This FBI allegations hit Arizona just five days before the Wildcats held their first practice.
“Every season represents its set of challenges,” Miller said at Pac-12 media day. “We had a few last season and we had a couple the season before that. It’s never a smooth ride from start to finish. How you handle it is everything.”
Asked how he addresses his team and moves forward, Miller continued to take a long-term view.
“When you’re a young person, as part of our program as you go through this right now, it will do nothing but strengthen you for life after college,” Miller said.
“There’s going to be not the perfect storm awaiting you. There’s going to be somebody in your life that gets sick unexpectedly, there is going to be a certain situation you can’t believe happens, and I think that all players in our program rely on the lessons they’ve learned from college.
“My directive right now is to make sure that I do the best job that I possibly can to coach these guys, to teach them, to love them, to coach them hard, and bring out the best in what I hope could be a very, very successful season.”