Pac-12 coaches re­veal lit­tle about scan­dal

UA’s Miller, USC’s En­field dodge tough ques­tions

The Arizona Republic - - Azcentral Sports - DOUG HALLER Con­tact Doug Haller at 602-444-4949 or at doug.haller@ari­zonare­pub­lic.com. Fol­low him at Twit­ter.com/DougHaller.

SAN FRAN­CISCO – On the eve of col­lege bas­ket­ball sea­son, Pac-12 me­dia day nor­mally is a time for coaches to sell op­ti­mism, which comes free of charge this time of year. That wasn’t the case here Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

The FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion into col­lege bas­ket­ball has cut deeply into the Pac-12. The top teams in the pre­sea­son me­dia poll — Ari­zona and USC — both have as­sis­tant coaches who face felony charges of bribery and fraud. What ef­fect this will have on those pro­grams, as well as the sport, is not yet known.

The NCAA this week formed a com­mis­sion to ex­am­ine pos­si­ble so­lu­tions to clean up the sport. On Thurs­day, the Pac-12 fol­lowed suit, an­nounc­ing the cre­ation of a task force that will both sup­ple­ment the NCAA’s ef­forts as well as of­fer pro­pos­als.

“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,” Pac-12 Com­mis­sioner Larry Scott said.

Ari­zona has a solid chance to open the sea­son No. 1. USC could be in the top 10. Yet ner­vous­ness has re­placed ex­cite­ment among their re­spec­tive fan bases.

Since the scan­dal broke Sept. 26, Ari­zona coach Sean Miller and USC’s Andy En­field have dodged ques­tions about their po­ten­tial in­volve­ment. Thurs­day was no dif­fer­ent. On Oct. 3, Miller is­sued a state­ment through the univer­sity say­ing he was “dev­as­tated” to learn of the al­le­ga­tions sur­round­ing as­sis­tant Emanuel "Book" Richard­son and that he sup­ported the univer­sity’s ef­forts to in­ves­ti­gate them.

Here, Miller stuck to a sim­i­lar script. Asked about the re­spon­si­bil­ity a head coach has in know­ing ev­ery­thing about his pro­gram, Miller said, “I’m go­ing to stand by the state­ment that I’ve given.” He had sim­i­lar re­sponses when asked if he had talked with the FBI or whether cur­rent Ari­zona play­ers might face sus­pen­sion.

Miller’s re­la­tion­ship with Richard­son dates more than 10 years, eight at Ari­zona and two at Xavier. That’s the hur­dle that will be dif­fi­cult for him to clear. Of all the Pac-12 as­sis­tants – 36 in all – only Ore­gon’s Kevin McKenna has worked with his head coach longer.

Has he talked with Richard­son re­cently?

“I’m not able to share any­thing about that,” Miller said.

This is dif­fer­ent ter­ri­tory for Miller, a lik­able coach who’s had suc­cess at ev­ery step of his coach­ing ca­reer. He took Xavier to four NCAA tour­na­ments, in­clud­ing the 2008 Elite Eight. Over eight years at Ari­zona, he has lifted the pro­gram to elite lev­els, win­ning 30-plus games four times, ad­vanc­ing to three Elite Eights.

Per­haps the event that of­fers the best il­lus­tra­tion of Miller’s pro­gram is the an­nual McDon­ald’s Red-Blue Game, a pre­sea­son scrimmage that has turned into a sig­na­ture event, sell­ing out McKale Cen­ter each sea­son. On Oct. 20, how­ever, the Tuc­son res­i­dents fill­ing those seats may for the first time ques­tion the coach's meth­ods.

“No one loves the com­mu­nity in Tuc­son more than me and, re­ally, my fam­ily,’’ Miller said. “They have em­braced our fam­ily from the very sec­ond that we came to Tuc­son from Ohio. They give us their heart and soul – 14,500 ev­ery game. They love the Ari­zona Wild­cats. It’s a cult fol­low­ing. Any­time we lose a game, I feel for them. When any­thing neg­a­tive hap­pens, you cer­tainly feel for them. By the same de­gree, I think they un­der­stand that there’s cer­tain ups and downs that ac­com­pany sports."

Ap­proach­ing his fifth sea­son, En­field also re­vealed lit­tle. Asked when he first knew that as­sis­tant Tony Bland had pos­si­bly ac­cepted bribes and fun­neled money to re­cruits, En­field said he found out when the news broke, just like ev­ery­one else.

“Tony Bland has been with us fourand-a-half years,” En­field said. “He’s part of our USC pro­gram and USC fam­ily. We all love Tony. It’s very dif­fi­cult on a per­sonal level, it’s very dif­fi­cult on a pro­gram level.”

Other con­fer­ence coaches chose their words care­fully but got their points across. Utah’s Larry Krys­tkowiak re­fused to say if a head coach has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to know how his staff in­ter­acts with re­cruits. But when asked about the pro­fes­sion’s code of si­lence, the Utah coach said rather than get in­volved, he’s sim­ply al­ways been “a be­liever in karma.”

“There are al­ways ru­mors and things that go on that you hear, but you have no ev­i­dence of,” Ari­zona State coach Bobby Hur­ley said. “You just try to run your pro­gram the best way you can, and you don’t tol­er­ate any­thing that goes be­yond the rules. You hope that’s be­ing ex­e­cuted by your en­tire staff ev­ery day.”

No one ex­pects this to go away any­time soon. For­mer Pac-12 coach Mike Mont­gomery – who’s on both the NCAA and Pac-12 com­mis­sions – said he doesn’t think the en­tire sport is dirty, but added that ru­mors have been around for as long as he's been in the sport, more than four decades.

““There’s more (schools in­volved) than just the pro­grams you’re hear­ing about,” Mont­gomery said. “There’s prob­a­bly peo­ple run­ning a lit­tle scared out there, rightly so. It’s prob­a­bly good the FBI is in­volved. It prob­a­bly has some peo­ple re­think­ing their po­si­tion on this stuff.”

How Ari­zona re­sponds over the next few months will be in­ter­est­ing to watch. Miller ex­cels at star­ing down ad­ver­sity. Last year, then-sopho­more Al­lonzo Trier – one of his best play­ers – missed 19 games af­ter test­ing pos­i­tive for a per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing sub­stance. In ad­di­tion, forward Ray Smith suf­fered a ca­reerend­ing knee in­jury and point guard Parker Jack­son-Cartwright missed six games with an an­kle is­sue.

Yet the Wild­cats still won 32 games. “Sean is such a process-driven guy,” said Pac-12 Net­works an­a­lyst Matt Muehle­bach, a for­mer Ari­zona guard. “He’s go­ing to stick to his process, and his team is go­ing to stick to his process. Ob­vi­ously, it’s a se­ri­ous is­sue. And I re­mem­ber this as a player. There were times when things were go­ing on with the team, or even your­self, but your sanc­tu­ary is the gym. Your sanc­tu­ary is prac­tice. I think that’s what you’ll see with Ari­zona.”

ERIC RIS­BERG/AP

Ari­zona coach Sean Miller lis­tens to ques­tions dur­ing the Pac-12's me­dia day on Thurs­day in San Fran­cisco.

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