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Arizona moves to fire assistant basketball coach Mark Phelps over reported NCAA violation

Arizona moves to fire assistant basketball coach Mark Phelps over reported NCAA violation

Arizona Wildcats vs. UC Davis Aggies men's college basketball (copy)

Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller and assistant coach Mark Phelps react to a foul call during the second half against UC Davis.

Arizona will move to terminate assistant basketball coach Mark Phelps in a “personnel action,” the school announced Wednesday night.

ESPN reported that Phelps has been accused of an NCAA violation regarding the academic transcripts of former UA recruit Shareef O’Neal. Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke said only that the move was a result of the university’s commitment to “the highest standards of integrity and ethical conduct.”

Phelps will be placed on paid leave while the UA moves to terminate him. He is scheduled to make $275,000 this season.

The UA said Phelps’ suspension was “not related to the federal criminal proceedings in New York or the NCAA’s review of the facts underlying the allegations of unlawful conduct.”

UPDATE: Regents meet, support Arizona's decision to fire assistant basketball coach Mark Phelps

Former UA assistant Book Richardson recently agreed to plead guilty to federal bribery charges after being arrested as part of the FBI’s investigation into college corruption. He will be sentenced in April.

Phelps’ attorney, Alabama-based Donald Maurice Jackson, would not comment to the Star but told ESPN that his client was a victim of entrapment.

“Mark Phelps has done absolutely nothing in violation of NCAA rules,” Jackson told ESPN. “He has been fully cooperative with the NCAA. He has been in daily contact with the compliance staff. This is a direct response to a published story (about alleged NCAA rules violations at Arizona), and they’re trying to entrap a coach in something he had no involvement in.”

Jackson posted on Facebook that Phelps has “performed his duties in strict compliance with NCAA and University policies” and that the NCAA’s director of enforcement told him on Jan. 22 that the enforcement staff had not determined if he was involved in any violations.

“Although coach Phelps is disappointed with the decision to place him on leave, he will continue to fully cooperate with both University investigators and NCAA staff,” Jackson wrote. “He is confident that he will be fully exonerated and allowed to resume his coaching career.”

In his statement, Heeke said UA head coach Sean Miller “fully supports this decision, which we agree is in the best interests of our men’s basketball program and the University.”

RELATED: Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller likely to be subpoenaed in federal trial

Phelps, a former head coach at Drake, was suspended for two games at the beginning of the 2017-18 season because of an unspecified NCAA violation. The UA would not specify the rule that was broken in response to a public-records request made by the Star.

Richardson, meanwhile, was initially charged with accepting $20,000 from aspiring agent Christian Dawkins to give to recruits for the purpose of later steering Arizona players to him for professional representation.

A third assistant, Joe Pasternack — now the head coach at UC Santa Barbara — has been linked in media reports to Dawkins.

Miller has repeatedly stated that he has a “culture of compliance” within his program. 

Last March, as ESPN reported that he was involved in a pay-for-play scheme involving former Wildcat Deandre Ayton, Miller vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

“I have never knowingly violated NCAA rules while serving as head coach of this great program,” he said.

Read more about Phelps here:

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

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