An ESPN report surfaced Friday that FBI wiretaps have Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller discussing a $100,000 payment with former ASM employee Christian Dawkins to secure the signing of star freshman Deandre Ayton.
But Ayton’s family has denied any involvement in prohibited activities, and Sunday an attorney from the firm hired by the University of Arizona to independently review the school’s alleged involvement in an FBI bribery scandal said these media reports “are false and unfounded.”
That attorney, Paul Kelly, also added that Ayton has “abided by all applicable rules and regulations and is fully eligible to participate as a member of the Men’s Basketball team.”
Here is Kelly’s full statement (bolding is mine):
“I am aware of media reports and public reaction suggesting that University of Arizona Men’s Basketball student-athlete Deandre Ayton should not be deemed eligible to compete due to a perception that he or his family received money or other benefits in connection with his recruitment at Arizona. These reports are false and unfounded.
“Over the past several months, Mr. Ayton has voluntarily submitted to several interviews, by federal prosecutors and the FBI, but University and Pac-12 compliance official, by representatives of the NCAA, and by Steptoe and Johnson, the independent firm engaged by the University to review these matters. In each of these interviews, Mr. Ayton has credibly and consistently maintained that neither he or nor any member of his family, nor any representative thereof, received any money or extra benefit to influence his decision to attend the University of Arizona. Not a shred of evidence has been adduced suggesting otherwise, which federal investigators and NCAA officials have acknowledged.
“As a former Assistant U.S. Attorney with a deep understanding of the criminal investigative process, and as an NCAA legal practitioner, I can say with confidence that Deandre Ayton has abided by all applicable rules and regulations and is fully eligible to participate as a member of the Men’s Basketball team.
“On a personal note, we have found Deandre to be an outstanding and honorable young man who has been truthful and cooperative in all of our dealings with him.”
Despite the ESPN report, Ayton played in Saturday’s game at Oregon, and now it appears he will stay on the court moving forward.
However, Miller did not coach Saturday and it is unclear when, or if, he will return to the sidelines. Lorenzo Romar filled in for Miller against Oregon, but said he doesn’t know how long he will be the interim.
One thing to note is that the ESPN report did not actually say any money between Miller/Arizona and Ayton changed hands, just that there is evidence of Miller discussing a sizable payment with Dawkins, a central figure in the FBI investigation.
So while the attorney’s statement is a good sign for Ayton’s status at Arizona, it might not mean a whole lot for Miller. But it does seem like we are headed for an extended legal battle rather than a quick solution.