SAN FRANCISCO – As coaches of the teams expected to finish No. 1 and 2 in the Pac-12 this season, Arizona’s Sean Miller and USC’s Andy Enfield understandably were the hottest tickets at the league’s media day Thursday afternoon in downtown San Francisco.
Not that anyone wanted to know about Miller’s high-profile recruiting class or Enfield’s veteran backcourt – and if those questions came, they didn’t come before a deluge of inquiries about an FBI investigation that led to the arrest of one Arizona assistant and one USC assistant last month.
As expected, that was the most pressing subject of this year’s media gala in the Bay Area. Commissioner Larry Scott opened with a few words about the investigation, Miller and Enfield were peppered with questions and all but one of the other 10 coaches were asked to give their thoughts on one of the sport’s biggest scandals to date.
“The FBI charges that we’ve all read are deeply troubling, not just to myself and to the conference, but to all of our schools,” Scott said. “We have to use this moment to take a closer look and more careful look at what’s going on in the sport of college basketball and our collegiate athletic programs more generally and make sure that they’re being operated in compliance, not just with NCAA rules, but with the law.”
Arizona assistant Emmanuel Richardson and USC aid Tony Bland are two of the four coaches being investigated as part of a bribery sting that shook the college basketball when it was exposed in September.
Enfield and Miller deflected most of the questions lobbed them regarding the investigation, which is still ongoing.
“I’m not going to comment on it,” said Enfield, the first coach to take the podium late Thursday morning in San Francisco. “I’ve been instructed as far as the ongoing investigation.”
Miller made an official statement when the charges came down a few weeks ago, but refused to comment further when he came to the podium just before lunch intermission at the Pac-12 headquarters.
“You’ve given a statement, but did you have any idea that coach Richardson was taking bribes?” “Were you questioned by the FBI?” “What responsibly does a head coach have knowing what’s going on in his program with situations like that?”
Miller got those three questions in a row and shot back with the same answer each time: “I’m going to stand by the statement that I’ve given.”
But many of Miller’s and Enfield’s Pac-12 colleagues entertained questions about a probe that’s sure to be the overarching story in college basketball when the sport officially returns next month.
Washington State coach Ernie Kent was longwinded in his responses and says the NCAA may need a reset.
“I don’t know how much we’ve grown internally,” Kent said. “It might be time for all of us, all of those people involved in college basketball, which is going to include your NBA, your players associations, your NCAA, your coaches, and sit down and ask: Are we doing the right things? Is there something we can do differently to continue to grow this game? Because it’s certainly changing rapidly.”
Colorado coach Tad Boyle suggests there is no way to eliminate “black market” that exists within college basketball, but “you’ve just got to learn how to deal with it.”
Uncovering the problems might be the only way to fix them, Boyle believes.
“Look, it’s shown some light on the underbelly of our sport,” Boyle said. “I think that’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”
The commissioner announced the launch of a 10-12 person task force in order “to look at the issues raised by the F.B.I. investigation and do deep dives into the culture and issues around recruitment and men’s college basketball,” Scott said, “but, more broadly, at related issues and examine how some of the things we’ve seen in basketball could potentially impact other sports.”
GOOD, BUT NOT THE BEST
It would’ve been a tough question for Arizona’s boss any other year, but after being asked about the pending NCAA investigations 13 times in 13 different ways, this query might as well have been the easiest one to answer.
“Do you think you have the best team in the country?” one reporter asked.
“I appreciate the question,” Miller said with a sigh of relief. “I don’t think we are right now. You know, Rawle Alkins getting hurt, I haven’t had an opportunity, and we haven’t had our collection of players together. Part of what I think makes our team this year potentially good, special, we’re not there yet, obviously at the beginning stages.”
The Wildcats were chosen as the conference’s consensus No. 1 and multiple publications are pegging them as a national frontrunner. Arizona returns Pac-12 Tournament MVP Allonzo Trier and brings in DeAndre Ayton, a five-start recruit who was rated by ESPN as the nation’s third-best prospect.
DUCKS ON A PLANE … BEAVERS, TOO
Oregon and Oregon State were late arrivals to Thursday’s event in San Francisco after their flights into the Bay Area were delayed because of regional wildfires.
The Ducks were fortunate that a prominent Eugene family – the Pape Family – let them use their private eight-passenger jet. The Beavers were fortunate the Ducks let them tag along, too.
“I called it Air Force Dana,” OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said, poking fun at UO coach Dana Altman. It was really, really nice and gracious of him to include us on that; otherwise, it would have been really tough to get down here. So we had some fun hanging in that airport for a while.”
Altman threw a playful jab back at his rival, but affirmed that no sort of Civil War broke out in the air.
“That was hard to do,” he joked, “but it worked out all right.”
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