FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion casts a shadow

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - By Tom FitzGer­ald and Rusty Sim­mons

The chief topic of dis­cus­sion at the Pac-12 men’s bas­ket­ball me­dia day Thurs­day wasn’t how each team is shap­ing up. It was the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion en­velop­ing the sport.

Two con­fer­ence as­sis­tant coaches, from USC and Ari­zona, have been ar­rested in the probe. Pac-12 Com­mis­sioner Larry Scott was con­cerned enough to form a con­fer­ence task force to study the pos­si­ble ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the scan­dal.

He said he was “shocked” by the na­tional dis­clo­sures and “in­cred­i­bly dis­ap­pointed” that they in­volved his con­fer­ence. He said he ad­dressed those con­cerns “in a very di­rect and frank way” to the head coaches Thurs­day morn­ing.

The task-force an­nounce­ment comes a day af­ter the NCAA formed a com­mit­tee to study pos­si­ble rule vi­o­la­tions and il­le­gal­i­ties in the sport. For­mer Stan­ford and Cal head coach Mike Mont­gomery will take part on both pan­els.

Mont­gomery said he didn’t think the scan­dal un­cov­ered a busi­ness-asusual ap­proach to bribes and pay­offs in col­lege bas­ket­ball.

“Some peo­ple are go­ing to tell you it’s ram­pant and ev­ery­body’s do­ing it,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the case. Ob­vi­ously, (when) the FBI gets in­volved, that’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent level.

“As long as I’ve been in coach­ing — for 42 years — there’s been stuff. You hear about it, but you never re­ally know for sure. Any­time some­body loses a (re­cruit), you’d say, ‘How come you lost that kid?’ And the an­swer would be, ‘Oh, they cheated,’ ” he said.

How­ever, he said he’s sure the scan­dal in­volves more schools than the ones that have been pub­licly named: USC, Ari­zona, Louisville, Mi­ami, Ok­la­homa State and Auburn.

“There’s prob­a­bly (coaches and oth­ers) run­ning a lit­tle scared out there,” Mont­gomery said. “And rightly so. Be­cause the FBI’s in­volved, it’s prob­a­bly got peo­ple re­think­ing their po­si­tion on this stuff.”

For­mer Stan­ford for­ward Josh Chil­dress thinks the sport is rife with cor­rup­tion. “I know guys who took a pay cut when they made it to the” NBA, he tweeted Wed­nes­day. “But any­way, good luck. It won’t be easy. Maybe just pay the play­ers in­stead.”

The head coaches of Ari­zona and USC — which hap­pen to be the teams picked to fin­ish one-two in the league — de­clined to com­ment on the FBI probe.

Ari­zona’s Sean Miller gave an ini­tial state­ment that he sup­ported the in­ves­ti­ga­tion but wouldn’t com­ment on the specifics of the charges. One of his as­sis­tants, Emanuel Richard­son, is al­leged to have ac­cepted $20,000 in bribes to per­suade play­ers to choose cer­tain agents and to have used money to in­flu­ence a player to at­tend Ari­zona.

Asked if he was aware of Richard­son’s pos­si­ble mis­deeds, Miller said, “I’m go­ing to stand by the state­ment that I gave.” He gave the same re­ply to ques­tions on whether he had been ques­tioned by the FBI, on whether some play­ers ask for money when they’re re­cruited, and other ques­tions.

“My di­rec­tive right now,” Miller said, “is to do the best job that I pos­si­bly can to coach th­ese guys, to teach them, to love them, to coach them hard and bring out their best in what I hope will be a very suc­cess­ful sea­son.”

USC’s Andy En­field said he wasn’t aware that as­sis­tant coach Tony Bland al­legedly ac­cepted $13,000 to help steer two play­ers to cer­tain agents.

“I found out when ev­ery­body else did,” he said. “But other than that, I can’t com­ment on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Bland has been with the Tro­jans’ pro­gram 4½ years, En­field said. “We all love Tony, so it’s very dif­fi­cult on a per­sonal level. It’s very dif­fi­cult on a pro­gram level.”

Asked if a head coach should know if an as­sis­tant is in­volved in the ac­tiv­i­ties al­leged, En­field said he had been in­structed, pre­sum­ably by his at­tor­ney, not to com­ment. Pre­sea­son poll: Ari­zona, which is atop many na­tional pre­sea­son rank­ings, was picked as the fa­vorite to win the Pac-12 by me­dia mem­bers, who tabbed Stan­ford fifth and Cal 11th in the poll.

The Car­di­nal re­turn four starters, in­clud­ing lead­ing scorer Reid Travis. Un­der first-year head coach Wyk­ing Jones, the Bears are try­ing re­place their top five scor­ers, who were lost to the NBA, grad­u­a­tion and trans­fer.

Ari­zona, which is No. 1 in the coun­try ac­cord­ing to Athlton, Blue Rib­bon Sports and Street & Smith’s, re­turns three starters, in­clud­ing 2017 Pac-12 tour­na­ment Most Out­stand­ing Player Al­lonzo Trier.

This marks the 15th time Ari­zona has been the con­fer­ence’s pro­jected win­ner since 1989-90 and the fifth time in the past six sea­sons. The Wild­cats have lived up to the billing nine times, in­clud­ing back-to-back ti­tles in 2013-14 and 201415.

Me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives have cor­rectly cho­sen the con­fer­ence win­ner 15 times in 25 tries. Briefly: The Pac-12 ex­tended its part­ner­ship with New York Life as the pre­sent­ing spon­sor for the men’s and women’s tour­na­ments. … Tick­ets for the men’s Pac-12 tour­na­ment in Las Ve­gas will go on sale next week, start­ing with a pre-sale Mon­day and con­tin­u­ing with avail­abil­ity to the gen­eral pub­lic Oct. 23.

Tom FitzGer­ald and Rusty Sim­mons are San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writ­ers. Email: tfitzger­ald@sfchron­i­cle.com or rsim­mons@sf chron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @tomg fitzger­ald or @Rusty_SFChron

Eric Risberg / As­so­ci­ated Press

For­mer Stan­ford and Cal head coach Mike Mont­gomery (right, with Bill Wal­ton) is join­ing two pan­els look­ing into col­le­giate ath­let­ics.

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