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Ayton named in scandal; puts up huge numbers in win over Oregon

Bahamian DeAndre Ayton finds himself at the center of an ongoing FBI investigation into a major scandal that has hit the heart of college basketball and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the United States.

Over the weekend, it was reported that FBI wiretaps showed Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller discussing a $100,000 payment to lock down the highly sought-after Ayton – a direct violation of NCAA rules.

Ayton was a McDonald’s All-American and the number three prospect in the ESPN 100 Class of 2017 coming out of high school in the United States.

As a freshman for the Arizona Wildcats, he hasn’t disappointed his fans. Ayton has developed into one of the best big men in college basketball and is a national player of the year candidate in most polls. He is in the top 50 in the country in scoring at 19.9 points per game, and top 10 in rebounding at 11.2 per game.

The 7-foot-1, 250-pound freshman is a sure lottery pick in next year’s National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Draft, with some mock drafts having him going number one overall. In the NBA, he is primed to make millions. Whereas this latest revelation is not expected to hurt his draft stock, it is a major blow to the men’s basketball program at Arizona, and by extension, college basketball in the United States.

Already, Shareef O’Neal, the son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal and a top college prospect, has decommitted from Arizona. That is just the beginning. If the story with Ayton pans out, Arizona could be forced to forfeit all wins with Ayton and likely face fines and sanctions.

ESPN is reporting that the FBI intercepted telephone conversations between Miller and Christian Dawkins, a key figure in the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball, in which Miller discussed paying $100,000 to ensure Ayton signed with Arizona, as relayed through sources. According to the report, when Dawkins asked Miller if he should work with Assistant Coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson to finalize the agreement, Miller told Dawkins he should deal directly with him when it came to money, per ESPN sources.

Richardson was one of four assistant coaches arrested by FBI agents last September after a two-year investigation into bribes and other corruption in the sport. Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans, who also has Bahamian roots; Auburn’s Chuck Person and the University of Southern California’s (USC) Tony Bland were the others. Miller denied knowledge of Richardson’s alleged scheme to bribe players to sign with Arizona.

Since the revelation on Friday evening, Arizona released a statement saying Miller and the school agreed for him not to coach their game against Oregon on Saturday, but Ayton was eligible to play, and dominated as usual.

The Bahamian big man had a monster game, finishing just short of career highs with 28 points and 18 rebounds. He finished 11-for-15 from the field and played a career-high 44 minutes in a 98-93 overtime loss. The Wildcats fell to 22-7, 12-4 Pac-12 Conference.

Arizona isn’t the only program to be affected by this latest scandal. According to Yahoo! Sports, players at basketball powers such as Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Kentucky, Michigan State and Kansas, may have committed NCAA violations. Schools such as Texas, USC and San Diego State are also implicated.

Not taking the matter lightly, Ayton’s family has hired attorney Lynden Rose Sr., a Bahamian basketball icon and father of Lynden Rose Jr., who just played for The Bahamas in the first two games of the 2019 FIBA (International Basketball Federation) World Cup qualifying process.

Rose termed the allegations as false and urged the FBI, the NCAA and the university to come out publicly and clear Ayton’s name. In a statement, it was said that Ayton’s family is “outraged and disgusted” by the reports that implied that Ayton or his family had any involvement in illegal or prohibited activities regarding his decision to matriculate to the University of Arizona.

Ayton played two seasons of high school basketball in San Diego, California, USA, before transferring to Hillcrest Prep Academy in Phoenix, Arizona. He eventually committed to the University of Arizona, and became an overnight success.

Rose said Ayton told the FBI last year that he “never discussed or solicited payments from the University of Arizona, or any other university, or any shoe company or anyone on behalf of either – period”. “This includes basketball and anything else.” He said Ayton’s decision to commit to Arizona was based on his family ties to Phoenix as well as his familiarity with the program and the area.

As of now, Miller is still on the team and still putting up huge numbers.

The no. 14-ranked Wildcats can clinch the Pac-12 regular season title with a win in the season finale against Stanford at the McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona, on Thursday. Following that, they will begin preparations for the 2018 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament, March 7–10, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the NCAA Tournament.

 

Sheldon Longley

Sports Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.
Education: College of The Bahamas, Associates in Accounting
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