The Arizona Wildcats are one of the biggest headlines in college basketball news for all the wrong reasons, again. Yesterday, Arizona placed assistant coach Mark Phelps on administrative leave and are moving towards terminating his contract. Phelps is reportedly involved in a NCAA investigation revolving around a transcript issue with current UCLA forward and former Arizona commit Shareef O’Neal. While the NCAA is currently investigating the matter, no decision has been made by the NCAA regarding Phelps’ coaching status. This makes the decision to fire Phelps seem even more puzzling considering all of the bad publicity the university has received in the last couple of years. Let’s take a quick look at every issue that the Arizona basketball program has been involved with recently.
Assistant Coach Book Richardson Arrested
On September 26th of 2017, Arizona assistant coach Book Richardson was arrested because of the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption. Richardson was accused of taking a $5,000 bribe to steer Arizona players towards an agency controlled by Christian Dawkins. In addition, he was also accused of taking $15,000 dollars to give to current Villanova point guard and former Arizona commit Jahvon Quinerly. There were also other recruits who were claimed to have discussed receiving payments. Along with Richardson, there have been reports of former Arizona assistant, and current UC Santa Barbara coach Joe Pasternack being involved as well. However, Pasternack has not been charged with any crimes. Recently, Book Richardson reached a plea deal and will not appear in court for a trial.
ESPN Article Alleges $100k Payment to Deandre Ayton
In February, ESPN reporter Mark Schlabach published a report stating that Sean Miller was caught on a wiretap discussing a $100k payment to Deandre Ayton. After further investigation, it was discovered that the article was not based on evidence, but word of mouth. There were multiple holes in the article including incorrect dates and timelines. In addition, nobody had access to the wiretaps Miller was supposedly on. Miller issued a statement saying, “I have never paid a recruit or prospect or their family or a representative to come to Arizona. I never have and I never will.” Nevertheless, Arizona’s reputation was damaged. Arizona lost commit Shareef O’Neal, and briefly lost Brandon Williams who later recommitted to Arizona. It has been an uphill climb for Arizona since this report.
NCAA Officially Begins Investigating Arizona
Just last week, the NCAA officially announced that they would begin to investigate the university. While this was expected, this decision could have led to why Phelps was placed on administrative leave. People at Arizona feel that this was in response to the investigation and an attempt for Arizona to clean up everything in the eyes of the NCAA.
So What’s Next for Arizona Basketball?
The decision to begin the process of firing Phelps is certainly a questionable decision. The NCAA has not completed the investigation and there is no word of what will come out of it. It is unusual that a university would fire a coach before they received due process in the investigation. This just seems like a university being scared into a decision by a report of being investigated. Time will tell but this could be a catastrophic mistake for the Wildcats.
Arizona currently has the #1 ranked recruiting class in the nation highlighted by Josh Green and Nico Mannion. However, both players are close with Phelps and this decision could impact their commitment. There will also certainly be more questions surrounding Miller and whether he can continue to coach at Arizona. There will be more answers in the coming months regarding Miller’s status. Christian Dawkins will go on trial in April and it is certain that more information will come out about the college basketball corruption scandal. This could be the last season we see Sean Miller coaching at the University of Arizona.