Arizona suspended assistant coach Mark Phelps after reports connected him to an NCAA violation.

While working with Arizona during an NCAA review of the UA men’s basketball program, the Arizona Board of Regents backed the school’s move to fire assistant basketball coach Mark Phelps.

The regents met Thursday over an item listed as “legal advice and discussion regarding University of Arizona Men’s Basketball,” and chair Ron Shoopman later issued a statement supporting the university's suspension of Phelps and its plans to terminate him.

“The board is confident this decision was made to ensure the utmost integrity and highest standards in the UA men’s basketball program,” Shoopman said. “As the governing body of Arizona’s public universities, the board is committed to doing everything possible to uphold the excellence and quality of the institutions we oversee, including the athletic programs at the universities.”

The NCAA is expected to sort through allegations raised in the federal investigation and trials involving college basketball. Arizona said Phelps’ violation 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.”

ESPN reported that Phelps was involved in an NCAA issue regarding the academic records of former UA commit Shareef O’Neal, now a redshirting forward at UCLA. But Phelps’ attorney, Donald Jackson, told ESPN that Phelps has “done absolutely nothing” in violation of NCAA rules. The Star reached Jackson twice seeking comment, and he declined both times.

"He has been fully cooperative with the NCAA,” Jackson told ESPN. “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.”

Regent Jay Heiler said the regents and UA have worked together to collect “all essential facts,” and follow up with the necessary steps the facts call for.

“Coach Phelps’ suspension pending dismissal is the latest case in point,” Heiler said.

Phelps is the second assistant to head coach Sean Miller that UA has moved to fire. Book Richardson was arrested and later fired after the federal investigation into college basketball went public in September 2017. A third UA coach employed during the 2016-17 season, Joe Pastnernack, has been mentioned in the federal proceedings.

Asked Thursday if the regents are now more concerned about Miller because of the collective actions of his assistants, Heiler responded by text message to say only that the regents and UA are continuing to work collaboratively with the NCAA.

“Both the university and the regents are aligned with NCAA in determined defense of the integrity of collegiate sport,” Heiler said.

Arizona said Thursday it had no written record of communication between the NCAA and the school regarding anything related to the 2017 federal complaints and the October 2018 trial of three college basketball figures, including Richardson. UA said it did not have any notification of an NCAA investigation. Its response stemmed from a public records request sent by the Star in November.


Former UA forward Emmanuel Akot has found a new home in Idaho.

Akot is finishing up the spring semester at Arizona and, barring appeal, will sit out the 2019-20 season with two more to play afterward.


Learn more about UA assistant coach Mark Phelps below.

Contact sports reporter Bruce Pascoe at 573-4146 or bpascoe@tucson.com. On Twitter @brucepascoe