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Sean Miller, Arizona players address Mark Phelps’ firing

arizona-wildcats-college-basketball-mens-sean-miller-lute-olson-stock-analysis-program-2019 Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats fell to Washington for their fourth straight loss Thursday, but the bigger story surrounding the program was the recent suspension of assistant coach Mark Phelps.

On Wednesday, Phelps was placed on administrative leave and the UA has initiated the process of firing the fourth-year assistant after he allegedly committed an NCAA violation.

The UA said the infraction was not related to the ongoing federal investigation into college basketball or the ongoing NCAA investigation into Arizona basketball. ESPN reported that Phelps has been accused of a violation regarding former Arizona commit Shareef O’Neal’s academic transcripts.

Senior point guard Justin Coleman said the Wildcats played for Phelps on Thursday.

“We love Coach Phelps as one. He’s still part of this team,” said Coleman, who joined Arizona last summer. “The time he was here, he taught me to be a better player, a better man. But from now on we just have to push for him, continue to get better. I know a couple guys reached out and told him how much they appreciate him as a coach and as a guy that he was a great person in the program. But right now we just have to move forward, get better, and take it day by day.”

Head coach Sean Miller, who supported the decision to fire Phelps according to statements issued by the UA, spoke about the loss to Washington for about five minutes before questions about Phelps came rolling in from a filled-to-capacity media room that included three ESPN reporters.

Here is how that part of the presser went.

Q. Where will this team miss Mark the most?

Miller: I’m not going to comment on that.

Q. Is there any specific reason you’re not commenting on this and when do you think you will be able to?

Miller: I’m not going to comment on that.

Q. Right now the statement said (athletic director) Dave Heeke said you supported (the decision to fire Phelps). So are they supporting you or working against you?

Miller: I support the statements that went out.

Q. Is there any coaching staff restructuring you’re gonna have to do?

Miller: Austin Carroll has been promoted a lot like last year, and he did a great job for us last year, and he’s in that same role this year.

Q. Justin Coleman said that they had another thing to play for today. In light of the developments today, what are your thoughts on that?

Miller: Our players are young people in college. They’re very emotional. When you go through a long season you grow attached to people and of course they’re attached to each other and the people that work with them.

Q. What level of concern do you have that you will likely be subpoenaed to testify in a federal trial? (This is referring to the recent Yahoo! report.)

Miller: I’m not going to comment on that.