Scan­dal is the fo­cus at me­dia day for Pac-12

Ari­zona and USC are picked 1-2, but Miller and En­field are asked mostly about the FBI probe.

Los Angeles Times - - NLCS - By Ben Bolch

SAN FRAN­CISCO — On a day usu­ally re­served for coaches to de­liver clunky podium jokes and in­jury up­dates, USC’s Andy En­field and Ari­zona’s Sean Miller were con­fronted by a far more un­com­fort­able topic Thurs­day at Pac-12 Con­fer­ence bas­ket­ball me­dia day.

Nei­ther could es­cape a fusil­lade of ques­tions re­lated to the evolv­ing col­lege bas­ket­ball cor­rup­tion scan­dal.

En­field and Miller were largely eva­sive be­fore de­part­ing a third­floor of­fice room to­ward an un­cer­tain fu­ture af­ter two of their as­sis­tants were among 10 men re­cently charged with us­ing bribes to di­rect play­ers to­ward schools, shoe spon­sors or agents.

Pac-12 Com­mis­sioner Larry Scott an­nounced the cre­ation of a con­fer­ence task force “to ad­dress is­sues that are threat­en­ing the in­tegrity of col­le­giate ath­let­ics and to pro­tect our stu­dent-ath­letes.”

The task force is pig­gy­back­ing on the NCAA’s re­cent for­ma­tion of a Com­mis­sion on Col­lege Bas­ket­ball in­tended to ex­am­ine the in­ner work­ings of the sport. UCLA ath­letic di­rec­tor Dan Guer­rero was among five ini­tial mem­bers of a group Scott said would even­tu­ally in­clude as many as a dozen ad­min­is­tra­tors, coaches and for­mer col­lege ath­letes.

“Our task force is go­ing to look at the is­sues raised by the FBI 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.”

Ari­zona and USC were picked first and sec­ond in a Pac-12 pre­sea­son me­dia poll that seemed like a foot­note given the furor over the FBI’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. UCLA was picked third, the first time the Bru­ins were pre­dicted to fin­ish lower than the Tro­jans since the 2003-04 sea­son.

Twenty of the 22 ques­tions En­field fielded were re­lated to al­le­ga­tions that as­sis­tant Tony Bland so­licited a $13,000 bribe to di­rect play­ers to an agent and fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor; the oth­ers were about the Drew League and team chem­istry. En­field spoke for his al­lot­ment of 20 min­utes with­out say­ing much. He re­it­er­ated that he learned of the al­le­ga­tions against Bland “when ev­ery­body else did” and couldn’t com­ment fur­ther beyond ac­knowl­edg­ing the dif­fi­culty of the sit­u­a­tion.

“When some­one leaves your fam­ily, it’s very hard on all of us and very emo­tional and chal­leng­ing,” En­field said. “Ev­ery­one on our team and coach­ing staff han­dles those emo­tions dif­fer­ently. But at the same time, we’ve been able to rely on each other and talk about it. We’ve been there for each other. So we’re go­ing to go on and try to pre­pare for the sea­son.”

Dressed in a dark suit, car­di­nal tie and pol­ished pewter wingtips, En­field con­ceded that he ex­pected the on­slaught of ques­tions re­lated to the scan­dal given that he had been a coach for 23 years. He cracked a joke when asked, were Bland to be cleared, whether the as­so­ci­ate head coach might re­join USC’s staff.

“You guys are great; for the most part you’re great,” En­field said, break­ing into a smile, “but hope­fully you have an un­der­stand­ing where I just can’t say things like that.”

Miller gave a lengthy pre­am­ble on his al­ready hav­ing ad­dressed al­le­ga­tions that as­sis­tant Emanuel Richard­son ac­cepted $20,000 in bribes and fun­neled some of that money to a high school re­cruit to at­tend Ari­zona. Miller then spent much of the next 20 min­utes cir­cling back to what he had al­ready said.

Asked whether he had any knowl­edge of the al­leged bribes: “I’m go­ing to stand by the state­ment that I gave.”

Asked whether he had been ques­tioned by the FBI: “I’m go­ing to stand by the state­ment that I gave.”

Asked about a coach’s re­spon­si­bil­ity for know­ing what’s go­ing on within his pro­gram: “I’m go­ing to stand by the state­ment that I gave.”

Utah coach Larry Krys­tkowiak said the NCAA re­quired col­lege coaches to sign dec­la­ra­tions ev­ery year stat­ing that they knew what their as­sis­tants were do­ing.

“The head coach is held re­spon­si­ble,” Krys­tkowiak said. “The old say­ing of, ‘I didn’t know what my as­sis­tants were do­ing’ [isn’t] go­ing to ap­ply any­more.”

Scott said the Pac-12 task force would strive to ed­u­cate schools and the con­fer­ence as a whole on po­ten­tially trou­ble­some bas­ket­ball is­sues; de­velop rec­om­men­da­tions and best prac­tices for im­prov­ing pro­ce­dures, poli­cies and the en­vi­ron­ment sur­round­ing col­lege sports; de­velop spe­cific pro­pos­als to be made to the NCAA; and ad­dress re­cruit­ing is­sues in other sports where the in­flu­ence of third par­ties such as agents and ap­parel rep­re­sen­ta­tives is grow­ing.

In ad­di­tion to Guer­rero, the task force will in­clude for­mer long­time Stan­ford and Cal­i­for­nia coach Mike Mont­gomery; Utah ath­letic di­rec­tor Chris Hill; for­mer Ten­nessee and NFL de­fen­sive back Charles Davis; and vet­eran col­lege ad­min­is­tra­tor Tom Jern­st­edt. The group is ex­pected to re­port its ini­tial find­ings by the end of the first quar­ter next year.

“We’re go­ing to be part of de­vel­op­ing spe­cific and con­crete re­form mea­sures na­tion­ally and within our own con­fer­ence,” Scott said, “to en­sure that the great ben­e­fits of col­le­giate ath­let­ics re­mains strong.”

Sweep­ing change ap­pears to be nec­es­sary. Krys­tkowiak said he could re­call “five, six, seven times off the top of my head” when a re­cruit, club coach or han­dler in­di­cated he was seek­ing an in­duce­ment for the player to at­tend his school.

“You get some of those phone calls, ran­dom phone calls that, ‘Hey, it’s go­ing to take this much,’ ” Krys­tkowiak said. “Some­times it comes di­rectly — ‘Is there any­thing else you guys can do to sweeten the pot?’ kind of deal. So I think it’s pretty ob­vi­ous it’s preva­lent.”

Krys­tkowiak com­pared the ex­plo­sion of money in col­lege bas­ket­ball to a “gate­way drug” that can be­come ad­dic­tive.

“You’re in­tro­duced to al­co­hol,” he said, “and you have a lit­tle mar­i­juana, and next thing you know you’re do­ing co­caine, and be­fore you know it you’re on ‘Break­ing Bad.’ ”

Krys­tkowiak said an­other col­lege coach told him this sum­mer that “if you’re not cheat­ing, you’re cheat­ing your­self.” Krys­tkowiak said he ini­tially thought the col­league was kid­ding.

“I re­al­ized as I walked away,” Krys­tkowiak said, “that it wasn’t a joke.”

ben.bolch@la­ Twit­ter: @latb­bolch

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