Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Thursday, October 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 48° Partly Cloudy
Sports

Grip on Sports: Arizona’s basketball program is burning to the ground and there is only one way to put out the flames

In this March 8, 2018 photo, Arizona head coach Sean Miller, center, instructs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Colorado in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. (Isaac Brekken / Associated Press)
In this March 8, 2018 photo, Arizona head coach Sean Miller, center, instructs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Colorado in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. (Isaac Brekken / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • We have one question. How is Sean Miller still Arizona’s basketball coach? If smoke correlates to fire, then there is a conflagration in Tucson. And Miller has served as the de-facto arsonist.

••••••••••

• Some of us love college basketball beyond all sense of proportion. It’s a game that has reached a height of popularity the past couple decades, thanks in large part to elite programs featuring elite players, even if they only stick around one year.

The West Coast has featured two programs that fit those parameters perfectly, including one in our hometown.

The other is Arizona, brought to prominence by Lute Olson, once a high school tennis coach (no lie; I had a friend who played for him at Marina High in Huntington Beach, Calif.), and his outstanding recruiting.

The current coach – as of 6:52 a.m. today – is Miller, who has won games at an outstanding rate in his 10-year UA tenure, but has yet to reach the heights Olson did with the Wildcats. And it’s the pursuit of those heights – Arizona won the national title under Lute in 1997 – that will be his downfall.

Eventually.

Yesterday in New York, testimony in the FBI-investigation-inspired corruption trial pulled the last bit of support Miller’s program should have among Arizona administrators.

Why? Book Richardson, Miller’s top assistant and a coach who has been with him since their days together at Xavier, was heard telling a defendant on a wiretap Miller was paying Deandre Ayton and Rawle Alkins, two Wildcat stars, to play for UA.

In fact, Richardson, who didn’t know he was being recorded by the FBI, said Miller was paying Ayton, a 7-foot center who would end up the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, $10,000 a month out of his pocket.

Why should anyone believe Richardson? Yes, he’s a felon who pled guilty in federal court to charges related to this probe, which would seem to taint his reputation a bit. But that’s exactly why what he said on the wiretaps is believable. He’s admitted to wrongdoing. He didn’t take a plea deal and then say these things. He said them while talking to someone he thought he was entering a business deal with. A corrupt business deal, to be sure, but a business deal nonetheless.

And, remember, Richardson has been Miller’s top recruiter for years.

But even when Richardson was named in the FBI probe, even when he decided to plead guilty, even with all the evidence mounting against Miller, the Arizona Regents did not act. The school has stood behind the coach.

How much longer can it be this way? Sooner or later the smoke will get so thick as to asphyxiate everyone – and everything – involved.

Miller. Arizona’s hard-earned reputation. Past UA players. Future players. The Regents.

Someone is going to have to wade in and smother the flames hidden at the center of all this smoke. Either that or the entire house will burn to the ground.

•••

WSU: Former Washington State quarterback Luke Falk has been released by the Miami Dolphins. Theo Lawson has the story. … A five-star linebacker from the Seattle area is still considering the Cougars but not UW. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, yesterday’s bombshell testimony in New York was featured in Arizona papers as well as national news outlets. … Some of the NCAA’s responses to the whole FBI-run probe are ludicrous. As one local college coach told me last fall, “The NCAA was so mad about what happened with 40 players, it ruined summer for 40,000.” … Colorado coach Tad Boyle has been outspoken in his condemnation of programs mentioned in the probe. Now the name of an assistant he recently hired was mentioned. … The conference is holding its spring meetings, which means we have some pronouncements from commissioner Larry Scott and some basketball news. … In football news, Colorado kicked off one its defensive backs. … Quarterbacks transferring is not new. But one deciding to stay put, as happened with Washington’s Jacob Sirmon, is a rare.

Gonzaga: It is a big weekend for the Zags. Two high-profile transfer guards, one of whom can play next season, will be on campus. And the Bulldogs need help at that position, especially since Zach Norvell Jr. seems to be leaning toward staying in the draft. Jim Meehan has more.

Whitworth: Just who is Damon Jablonski, the Pirates’ new basketball coach? Dan Thompson tells us in this story. The best tidbit within? Jablonski once designed brake systems for Ford’s F-150 pickup.

Chiefs: Ty Smith is the WHL’s defenseman of the year.

Preps: It is Thursday, which means it is a day filled with prep sports stories. And by filled we actually mean overflowing. We’ll start with track and field, with Ryan Collingwood’s notebook. Central Valley and Mead will battle today for the GSL title. … The soccer playoffs are set, and Dave Nichols goes over those scenarios in this story. … Jim Meehan has a story on hard-working Mead golfer Cami Culp. … Softball has more than one story with Steve Christilaw writing about U-Hi and CV battling for the GSL title and Luke Byrnes chipping in a story on Shadle Park’s Meghan Keenan. … We also have roundups to pass along from softball and baseball.

Mariners: To use a driving analogy, the M’s have blown a couple tires and find themselves stranded in a ditch by the side of a country road. With no cell service. They lost 11-0 to the Cubs yesterday and now hit the road. … Kyle Seager feels he is ready to return from the injured list. … Gene Warnick has an Out of Right Field summary of the M’s third consecutive loss.

Seahawks: Here’s how the Hawks’ roster might look on opening week.

Sounders: Watching Seattle the other day, I thought Cristian Roldan’s red card was iffy at best. Yes, he made contact with an opposing players head, but only because he looked to be shoved so hard he fell backward and his hands came up. The MLS seems to agree.

•••       

• The NCAA almost destroyed the USC football program when an outside agent gave money to Reggie Bush’s family, even though there was not compelling evidence the school knew about it. So how can the organization ignore what’s been alleged about Miller and Arizona? Wait, North Carolina held phony classes for its athletes and was not punished. So maybe the Wildcats will skate. After all, the money could have been for books. Oops, that gets you in trouble too. Ask Cal Poly. Until later …

Subscribe to the sports newsletter

Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.

You have been successfully subscribed!
There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email webteam@spokesman.com