Arizona's Phelps suspended amid NCAA probe

Arizona has “initiated the process” to terminate men’s basketball assistant coach Mark Phelps while suspending him indefinitely, the school said in a statement Wednesday.

Phelps’ attorney, Donald Maurice Jackson of Montgomery, Alabama, said Phelps was suspended because of an alleged NCAA rules violation.

“The University of Arizona is committed to the highest standards of integrity and ethical conduct and our commitment to those principles is unwavering,” Dave Heeke, Arizona’s director of athletics, said in a statement. “The decision to remove Coach Phelps immediately is a direct result of that commitment. We strive to compete within the rules of the NCAA and the Pac-12 Conference, and we will continue to cooperate fully with the NCAA. Coach [Sean] Miller fully supports this decision, which we agree is in the best interests of our men’s basketball program and the University.”

The university said in a statement that Phelps’ suspension is “not related to the federal criminal proceedings in New York or the NCAA’s review of the facts underlying the allegations of unlawful conduct.”

Sources told ESPN that Phelps is accused of a violation regarding former Arizona recruit Shareef O’Neal’s academic transcripts. O’Neal, the son of former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, was committed to the Wildcats in 2017 before signing with UCLA.

O’Neal sat out this season because of a heart condition.

Phelps, in his fourth season on Arizona’s staff, denies wrongdoing and has cooperated with university and NCAA investigators, Jackson told ESPN.

“Mark Phelps has done absolutely nothing in violation of NCAA rules,” Jackson said. “He has been fully cooperative with the NCAA. He has been in daily contact with the compliance staff. This is a direct response to a published story [about alleged NCAA rules violations at Arizona], and they’re trying to entrap a coach in something he had no involvement in.”

The Arizona Board of Regents is scheduled to meet in Phoenix on Thursday to discuss, among other agenda items, “legal advice and discussion regarding University of Arizona’s Men’s Basketball.”

“This is just a circular attempt to go after Sean Miller,” a source told ESPN.

Last month, former Arizona assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

Richardson, who was accused of accepting $20,000 in bribes to steer Arizona players to certain managers and financial advisers once they turned pro, might face 18 to 24 months in prison. He is scheduled for sentencing in U.S. District Court in New York on April 24.

An Outside the Lines analysis of former NBA runner Christian Dawkins’ cellphone records from May 3, 2017, to July 2, 2017, shows there were at least 13 phone calls involving a cell number belonging to Arizona coach Sean Miller. The records show that each of the calls Dawkins made to or received from the number associated with Miller lasted at least five minutes.

Dawkins was one of three men convicted in October on federal felony charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud related to pay-for-play schemes to send high-profile recruits to Adidas-sponsored schools.

During that trial, Brian Bowen Sr., the father of former Louisville signee Brian Bowen II, testified that Dawkins told him that Arizona assistant coach Joe Pasternack offered $50,000 for Bowen to sign with the Wildcats. Pasternack is now the head coach at UC Santa Barbara.

Defense attorneys during the October trial also suggested that Arizona offered — or was prepared to offer — $150,000 for current North Carolina player Nassir Little to sign with the Wildcats. The government and defense attorneys agreed that the money wasn’t requested on behalf of Little’s family.

ESPN reported in February 2018 that Dawkins and Miller had discussions about a $100,000 payment that ensured that star center Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft, signed with the Wildcats from the class of 2017.

Phelps was suspended for five games without pay in November 2017, and Wildcats player Keanu Pinder was suspended for the opener for an undisclosed rules violation.

In a social media post on Wednesday, Jackson included a statement that he said was from the NCAA’s director of enforcement, which read: “At this point, the enforcement staff has made no determinations regarding potential violations involving Coach Phelps as we are still in the process of collecting information and conducting interviews.”

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