Arizona Wildcats athletic director Dave Heeke addresses the media at halftime of the UA-WSU game at McKale Center on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, concerning the school's move to fire assistant Mark Phelps and its support of Sean Miller.

Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke issued a strong statement of support for UA coach Sean Miller, but otherwise declined to detail the NCAA review of the Wildcat basketball program and the school's move to fire assistant coach Mark Phelps.

"I want to stand in front of you and say we support this basketball program, we support these players, support this coaching staff," Heeke said, speaking to reporters during halftime of the UA-WSU basketball game at McKale Center on Saturday. "This place deserves nothing else but that. We've supported them all the way back."

Heeke wouldn't comment on the schools' move to fire Phelps but denied speculation that Arizona was building a case to fire Miller.

Yahoo Sports reported this week that Miller is likely to be subpoenaed during an upcoming federal trial involving the college basketball scandal, and that the school will soon be facing "uncomfortable questions."

UA last year fired another Miller assistant coach, Book Richardson, following his arrest as part of the federal investigation into college basketball.

“We’re fully supportive of the coaching staff, the leadership of the basketball program,” Heeke said. “We’re supporting, as I have said before, we support Coach Miller. Those things that have been said to the contrary to that are not true.”

Miller earlier this week said he supported the statements UA made concerning Phelps, but wouldn't comment further and offered few words in reaction to Heeke’s support Saturday.

“I really appreciate it,” Miller said after the game.

According to ESPN, Phelps committed an NCAA violation with regard to the academics of former UA recruit Shareef O'Neal. Heeke declined to comment on the specifics of why the school is moving to fire him, but said the decision did not come lightly.

"Anytime you have to make a decision, please know it doesn’t come lightly," Heeke said. "There’s a lot of conversation, a lot of contemplation and a lot of people who are involve in that.

"And we continue to do the right thing when we're faced with issues. As I’ve said along when we’re faced with situations, we will do the right thing. This is an iconic brand, Arizona basketball, this is an unbelievable university, a world class university, and we will do the right thing for the program and for the university, for this basketball program."

Heeke said the entirety of college basketball is concerned with the image with the recent issues that are going on. The federal investigation into college basketball was made public in September 2017, and the first related trial resulted in more allegations in October 2018.

“We need to get through that so the game of college basketball can be in a better place,” Heeke said. “It has impacted a number of programs. Anytime you’re touched with that, as we’ve been, it’s difficult, it’s disappointing and it’s hard to take.

"But we remain very confident in this program going forward. We will be a strong program. We will be a program that will move forward and continue to represent the university and be one of the iconic, one of the best programs in the country.”

Miller has consistently declined to comment about off-court issues, but Heeke acknowledged they are having an effect on the Wildcats, who lost their fifth straight game after Saturday's home loss to Washington State.

“Adversity is everything,” Heeke said. “You go through stretches in seasons with all of the things, from injuries to other pieces. You have to react and you have to stay focused and do the very best you can. I’ve been impressed with the young men in our program and I’ve been impressed with our coaches the way they’ve stayed the course.”

Contact sports reporter Bruce Pascoe at 573-4146 or On Twitter @brucepascoe


Bruce is a veteran Star sports reporter who has also worked at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He graduated from Northwestern University and has an MBA from Thunderbird.