Defiant Sean Miller calls ESPN report 'false and defamatory,' Arizona says he will remain as coach; SI reports Ayton is not player being discussed on wiretap | Zagsblog
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Friday / January 24.
  • Defiant Sean Miller calls ESPN report ‘false and defamatory,’ Arizona says he will remain as coach; SI reports Ayton is not player being discussed on wiretap

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    A defiant Sean Miller on Thursday called ESPN’s report that the FBI has wiretapped conversations of Miller discussing a $100,000 payment to secure Deandre Ayton “false and defamatory” and vowed to continue coaching the Wildcats on Thursday against Stanford and into the Pac-12 Tournament.

    After Miller read a 4 1/2-minute statement and did not take any questions, University President Robert C. Robbins and AD Dave Heeke said Miller would remain the school’s coach.

    Meantime, Sports Illustrated reported later Thursday via a source that Ayton is not the player being discussed by Miller on the wiretap, raising the possibility that Miller could pursue legal action against ESPN.

    ESPN issued the following statement: “We stand by our reporting.”

    As for his statement, Miller said in part:

    “I have never arranged or directed payment or any improper benefits to a recruit or a prospect or their representative, and I never will,” said Miller, who sat out Saturday night’s loss at Oregon.

    “Let me be very, very clear. I have never discussed with Christian Dawkins paying Deandre Ayton to attend the University of Arizona. 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.

    “These statements have damaged me, my family, the University, Deandre Ayton and his incredible family. The only attempted corrections by the original source of the media statements are still inaccurate and completely false. I also want you to know that the one time someone suggested to me paying a player to come to the University of Arizona, I did not agree to it. It never happened and that player did not come to the University of Arizona. Out of respect for this ongoing investigation, the privacy of the student-athlete  and his family I’m not going to share further details concerning this matter.

    “I have been completely open and transparent and I look forward to coaching this outstanding team as we seek to capture a Pac-12 regular-season championship this week. I now intend to turn my focus to basketball and our players and this team…This now completes my statement on this matter.”

    The school then said Miller would remain as coach.

    “We have decided that Sean Miller will remain the University of Arizona’s men’s basketball coach,” the school statement said.

    “Media reports last Friday alleged that Coach Miller was caught on a wiretap discussing a payment with a representative of a sports agency regarding one of our student-athletes. Since those reports broke, we have sought to learn everything that we can from Coach Miller about the allegations. As Coach Miller’s employer, we acted to investigate these reports.

    “Earlier this week, we met with Coach Miller at length and asked him direct and pointed questions. 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. 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.

    “We want to thank our student-athletes for the strength they have exhibited during this challenging situation. We are confident that they will continue to respond with commitment, integrity and excellence. Deandre Ayton, who has been subjected to false, public reports that impugned his reputation, has our full support. We ask that the Wildcat Family rally behind these young men and our coaching staff tonight and throughout the rest of our season. ”

    Ayton, the 7-foot-1 Bahamian native who is in the mix for the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, previously disputed the report, too. He has remained eligible.

    In the wake of the ESPN report, Arizona lost another recruit when Shareef O’Neal, the son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, decommitted and then chose UCLA several days later.

    The younger O’Neal weighed in on Twitter after Miller’s statement.

    Photo: Sporting News

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.