That loud Clunk! we heard down in Tucson…
That was the other shoe dropping on the University of Arizona men’s basketball program.
Ever since UofA assistant coach Book Richardson was indicted last fall on bribery charges in a federal investigation of high school recruiting that is still ongoing, Wildcat fans have been holding their collective breath, hoping the scandal would end there.
But two days ago ESPN reported that head coach Sean Miller was now being sucked into the investigation of sports corruption. In a wiretap that was part of the continuing FBI probe into recruiting, Miller was caught discussing with a sports agent a $100,000 payment to steer the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect, Deandre Ayton, toward Tucson.
So the breathless wait appears to be over. But the outcome is beyond disappointing. It’s shocking.
And, unfortunately, Wildcat Nation can’t exhale yet. There’s still the big question of what’s going to happen to their storied basketball program, the one that came into the season ranked No. 2 in the nation.
Jay Bilas, a top ESPN college basketball analyst and one of the most respected voices in the game, is pretty sure the Wildcats will soon be looking for a new coach. “I can’t imagine him ever coaching in college again,” said Bilas on yesterday’s telecast of College Game Day, adding “You can’t deny the facts.”
Depending on the fall-out going forward, it’s entirely possible that neither Miller or Ayton will be with the team going into the postseason and the games in which Ayton played this season could be forfeited. Whether the team, ranked No. 14 in the country, will get to play in the NCAA Tournament is also questionable.
Last night, Miller was not on the bench for the Oregon game, but Ayton did play.
If Miller leaves, it means Arizona will lose the program’s savior, the man who came in after the legendary Lute Olson walked away from the program in 2008 after taking the Wildcats to four Final Fours and a national championship. In eight years in Olson’s chair, Miller has averaged 27.5 wins per year coming into this season, has won 77 percent of his games in Tucson, and posted 20-win seasons all but one year.
He has proven himself to be one of the best college recruiters in the country, pulling in Top-10 classes the past five years. That need to perpetuate that success appears to have led to his downfall.
But the future of the program may pale in comparison to what Miller could be facing personally. Richardson, who is one of 10 individuals from various colleges arrested in September, has been charged with six felonies, from conspiracy to commit bribery to mail and wire fraud. If convicted on all counts, he could be looking at a maximum 60 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.
Miller says he took himself out of the Oregon game, a 98-93 Arizona loss in Eugene, and issued a statement following Friday night’s breaking story on the FBI wiretap, asserting his innocence and insisting he “will be vindicated.”
When the indictments involving Richardson were unveiled by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York back on Sept. 26, the UofA issued a statement in support of their head coach.
That’s not likely to happen this time around.