On Friday night, hours after Yahoo Sports published a report featuring documents and bank records that linked former NBA agent Andy Miller and ASM Sports to loans and other impermissible benefits given to more than 25 current and former college basketball players, ESPN put out a report that could have even bigger immediate ramifications on the sport. FBI wiretaps reportedly captured a phone call in which Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller discussed paying Wildcats star freshman Deandre Ayton $100,000 to commit to the school, according to sources who talked to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach.
Per those sources, Christian Dawkins, a sports agent runner who is a focal point of the FBI’s ongoing investigation into college basketball recruiting, asked Miller if he should deal with then-Arizona assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson (who faces federal bribery and fraud charges) regarding a payment for Ayton. According the report, Miller told Dawkins that he would work with him directly to finalize any agreement involving money. Dawkins was charged with three counts of wire fraud and one count of money-laundering conspiracy by the U.S. Attorney’s office in October in relation to allegations that he helped facilitate payment of $250,000 to recruits to sign with Adidas schools.
Ayton was ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the Class of 2017, per 247Sports, and committed to Arizona in September 2016 over Kansas and Kentucky. The 7-foot-1, 252-pounder has excelled this season, leading the Wildcats to a 22-6 record behind his average of 19.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game. If this report is confirmed, the revelation would likely result in Ayton being ruled ineligible for the remainder of the 2017-18 campaign, among other punishments that would be levied by the NCAA. This report also comes one day after the NCAA ruled Arizona point guard Allonzo Trier ineligible after testing positive for a banned substance.
Losing both players would be a major blow for a program aiming to make its first Final Four since 2001, and for a coach who’s searching for his first trip to that stage. Under Miller, Arizona has made three Elite Eights and frequently finished with top-five recruiting classes, with only two that fell outside the top 10 in 247Sports’s composite team rankings.
Miller arrived in Tucson in 2009—the third coach hired at Arizona in as many years—having never previously set foot on the campus. After enjoying decades of success under the Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson, the Wildcats went 19-15 under Kevin O’Neill in 2007-08 and 21-14 under Russ Pennell in 2008-09. Miller’s teams have never won fewer than 10 games in Pac-12 play and won at least 30 games four times. Now his job may be in jeopardy.
The last coach to face a similar predicament was former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. In September, Pitino was ousted after an NCAA probe alleged that the school paid Brian Bowen, an incoming recruit, $100,000 to enroll. Pitino denied that he had any knowledge of the payment or of any other improprieties alleged by the FBI. But a federal indictment against former Adidas director of global marketing Jim Gatto claimed that the Hall of Fame coach was not only aware of Bowen’s payment, but had also participated in planning it.
Where the FBI’s investigation goes from here is unclear. It’s probable that more reports will be released in the coming days pertaining to other major programs and coaches and their dealings with agents across the college basketball landscape. How the NCAA acts upon these findings is yet to be determined. If nothing else, though, we now have a basis to estimate exactly how much it costs to perennially lose in the Elite Eight.