Arizona coach Sean Miller will coach in his team's home game Thursday night against Stanford. Miller read a prepared, emphatic statement in front of the media Thursday afternoon to defend his innocence and clear his name, his university and his star freshman, Deandre Ayton.
"I have never paid a recruit or prospect or their family or representative to come to Arizona," Miller said. "I never have and I never will. I have never arranged or directed payment or any improper benefits to a recruit or prospect or their family or representative, and I never will."
ESPN reported last Friday that Miller was caught on FBI wiretaps talking to Christian Dawkins, an employee of ASM Sports, and that their conversation involved Deandre Ayton and a $100,000 payment. Dawkins has been charged in the FBI's case of bribery, conspiracy and fraud in college basketball.
"Let me be very, very clear: I have never discussed with Christian Dawkins paying Deandre Ayton to attend the University of Arizona," Miller said. "In fact, I never even met or spoke to Christian Dawkins until after Deandre publicly announced that he was coming to our school. Any reporting to the contrary is inaccurate, false and defamatory. I'm outraged by the media statements that have been made and the acceptance by many that these statements were true. There was no such conversation."
That is a direct refutation of the ESPN report, which was corrected twice after publication and drew scrutiny from other media outlets, including 247Sports. After Miller's press conference -- at which he did not take questions -- ESPN's story on Miller stated it "stands by its reporting on Miller and the FBI investigation."
"I have never knowingly violated NCAA rules while serving as head coach of this great program," Miller said.
Ayton played Saturday in Arizona's loss to Oregon. Lawyers representing Ayton and his family, in addition to outside counsel for the University of Arizona, defended his innocence since this story broke. Arizona has deemed Ayton eligible; that status is unlikely to change barring more information -- public or private -- coming to Arizona's attention.
Miller was thorough and exact in his dispute of the report, but he also said he had once been approached about a pay-for-play scenario with one player. He did not specify who approached him nor the player in question.
"I also want you to know the one time someone suggested to me paying a player to come to the University of Arizona, I never agreed to it," Miller said. "It never happened and that player never came to Arizona."
Later Thursday, Arizona president Robert Robbins and school AD Dave Heeke released a joint statement supporting Miller's continued employment as acting Arizona coach.
"Earlier this week, we met with Coach Miller at length and asked him direct and pointed questions," their statement reads. "He was eager to speak with us and answered every question we asked. At this time we have no reason to believe that Coach Miller violated NCAA rules or any laws regarding the allegation reported in the media. Additionally, he has a record of compliance with NCAA rules, and he has been cooperative with this process.
"While some might be tempted to rush to judgment when there is intense public pressure, due process is the bedrock of fair treatment and acting with integrity," the statement continues. "With that in mind, we will continue to pursue every avenue of inquiry available to us during an active federal investigation to fully understand the facts. We recognize that investigation is ongoing, and we will continue to be respectful and cooperative through its conclusion. Steptoe & Johnson continues its investigation into our athletics compliance, and we will carefully review and act on its conclusions. We anticipate this report will be thorough and based on facts."
After missing the Oregon game, Miller will be on the sideline for the Pac-12 tournament and the NCAA Tournament. Nevertheless, Miller's former assistant, Book Richardson, has been charged by the federal government and awaits trial in 2019. What comes of that case, and any potential impact on Miller and Arizona, remains a curiosity.
"I also understand that there is an ongoing federal investigation," Miller said Thursday. "Because of this I cannot do anything that might compromise the integrity of this investigation. However, on this point, I cannot remain silent in light of media reports that have impugned the reputation of me, the university and sullied the name of a tremendous young man, Deandre Ayton."
Arizona (22-7) closes its regular season on Saturday against Cal.