Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller said Tuesday he realized he was responsible for a “culture of compliance” but did not admit any wrongdoing in his first public comment since assistant coach Book Richardson was arrested on federal bribery and fraud charges Sept. 26.
Later, UA President Robert Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke offered the coach a measure of support in separate statements.
“Based on the facts that we know at this time,” Robbins said in a letter posted on UA’s website, “we support coach Miller and intend to provide him with all of the tools necessary to meet our goals and expectations.”
Miller said in his two-paragraph statement that he was “devastated” to learn of the allegations against Richardson.
The coach said he expressed to both Robbins and Heeke that he fully supported the school’s efforts to investigate them.
“As the head basketball coach at the University of Arizona, I recognize my responsibility is not only to establish a culture of success on the basketball court and in the classroom, but as important, to promote and reinforce a culture of compliance,” he said. “To the best of my ability, I have worked to demonstrate this over the past eight years and will continue to do so as we move forward.”
Robbins outlined the legal teams the school has hired, including one that will conduct an independent investigation and another that will “assist with the Department of Justice’s criminal investigation, as well as with potential NCAA matters.”
Heeke later sent an email saying those steps will ensure “we are winning with integrity at all times.”
Heeke also urged fans to “join me in supporting Sean Miller, the staff and our student-athletes as they work toward the start of the season.”
It isn’t known if any findings might affect the upcoming season, though Robbins said UA would share the results of the independent investigation to be conducted by Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Robbins said that firm’s investigative team would be led by Paul Charlton, a former U.S. Attorney for the district of Arizona.
Robbins said Steptoe & Johnson would review all allegations against Arizona in the federal complaint and “any related legal issues or compliance concerns arising from these complaints,” while saying that another firm, Phoenix-based Jackson-Lewis, has been hired to handle the NCAA issues that may arise from the federal complaint.
The Jackson-Lewis attorneys Robbins said would be involved are Alabama-based Gene Marsh, former chairman of the NCAA infractions committee (1999-2008), along with Dallas-based John Long, a former NCAA compliance officer.
“Should any new information come to light in the coming days and weeks, we will not hesitate to act or to take additional measures to fully address any issues,” Robbins’ statement said.
Miller did not address potential NCAA violations that arose in the federal complaint, such as allegations that a UA player was paid by an agent who claimed to be able to attend UA’s normally closed practices “like I’m on the team.”
The federal complaint also said a former UA assistant, believed to be Joe Pasternack, likely had repeated conversations with a sports agent later accused of handing bribes to Richardson. A separate portion of the complaint quoted an Adidas representative as saying Arizona had offered a five-star recruit $150,000 to commit.
Robbins said in his letter that “Sean Miller has not been charged with — nor accused of — any misconduct and he has been fully cooperative and supportive of our efforts to determine the facts in pursuit of the truth.”
Miller has not been implicated in an NCAA violation since becoming the UA’s head coach in April 2009, and he was not named at all in the federal complaint except for an agent’s reference that Miller badly wanted a recruit who was believed to be New Jersey five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly.
Richardson, Miller’s longest-serving assistant, was accused of taking $20,000 in bribes from a sports agency, mostly for the purpose of paying the player believed to be Quinerly. In exchange, the complaint stated, Richardson promised to deliver UA players to that sports agency as professionals.
If Quinerly is proven to have taken a five-figure amount from the agents through Richardson, he likely would become ineligible as a freshman in 2018-19. The other allegations raised in the federal complaint, if translated into NCAA violations, could result in sanctions against the program for failing to monitor NCAA rules, among other things.
Quinerly has yet to comment since the federal complaint was issued, while the UA’s other two committed players in the class of 2018, forward Shareef O’Neal and guard Brandon Williams, remain committed.
However, the Wildcats have been suffering fallout on the recruiting trail from Richardson’s arrest.
Simisola Shittu, a five-star Canadian power forward in the class of 2018 who now plays for Vermont Academy, canceled a planned Nov. 3 visit to Arizona. Zagsblog quoted his mother saying he canceled the visit.
Last Saturday, the Wildcats also fell out of the running for Canadian forward R.J. Barrett, the top-rated player overall in the class of 2018. Barrett announced that his three finalists were Oregon, Kentucky and Duke, dropping Arizona and Michigan from what had been his top five.
Among the other top 2018 players UA is still recruiting, five-star forward Bol Bol remains active with Arizona, according to Gary McKnight, his coach at Mater Dei High School in Southern California.
But, McKnight said “it’s too early to tell” what might happen.
The Wildcats could gain ground with Shittu and other top 2018 players if they wait until the spring signing period, when more may be known from the FBI investigation, a possibility Wasatch Academy coach Curtis Condie said was likely.
Condie, who coached UA freshman Emmanuel Akot at the Utah school last season, is also coaching another former 2018 UA recruiting target, big man Bryan Penn-Johnson.
However, Condie said Arizona’s recruitment of Penn-Johnson ended before last week, saying Penn-Johnson has been considering UCLA, Wichita State, Utah and Washington this fall and will likely sign next month.