Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller addressed the media for the first time since his program was implicated in the FBI’s investigation into corruption and bribery violations.
Miller deflected all questions regarding the investigation’s effect on the program but focused on the expectations for the 2017-18 season and the immediate impact of a talented recruiting class highlighted by Bahamian prep superstar – DeAndre Ayton.
“I’ve never coached a player like DeAndre and I don’t think [our players] have seen anybody like him,” Miller said, “He’s 7 feet, 260, his body fat is probably close to six percent and he had a max vertical jump a couple of weeks ago of 43.5 inches. To put that in perspective with his size that means he touches the top of the backboard. To see DeAndre’s athleticism, for somebody as big as he is, you don’t often times see that.”
7 footer, 260 lbs, 43.5 inch vert 👀😈 pic.twitter.com/7oJbq2rJDk
— Deandre Ayton (@RealDeandreAy) September 26, 2017
The Wildcats fanbase had an opportunity to witness Ayton’s impact during Arizona’s foreign tour in August. He averaged 14 points and nine rebounds in two games against Cobinado Valenciano and the Mataro All-Stars.
“He’s learning how to work hard. The thing that I’m the most pleased about is he’s really just done everything we have asked of him on and off the court and I think if you talked to him he’ll probably tell you he’s never worked harder,” Miller said, “But that’s one of the big reasons he came here is to be pushed and to put himself in that highly competitive environment and I think in his case it will take him to some great heights.”
Ayton is expected to fill the void in the frontcourt left by 2016 NBA Lottery Pick Lauri Markkanen and join potential All-Americans wings Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins to lead the Wildcats attack which is expected to be one of the top offences in college basketball.
“With the players that we have loss clearly this is a pivotal class for us,” Miller said, “I think we have the making of something special but its just too early to tell. You have to have younger players that grow by leaps and bounds each week because our game has never been more for the younger players. It’s a balancing act on this year’s team. I think the one thing we have going for us is we have that blend that you want to have and that is youthful talent – willing learners that are youthful, but also the guys that have been through the battles. It’s how all of that comes together, the blend of the new and the old which will determine if this team can be special.
Junior center Dusan Ristic is already excited at the possibility of being paired alongside Ayton in the frontcourt.
“Last year we had Lauri who was great outside player, perimeter player, he used to stretch the floor but now we have DeAndre who can do both play inside and stretch it outside and I think it’s going to be a great challenge for teams that we play against this year,” he said, “It’s not going to be easy to guard both of us the same time and I’m really excited to play alongside DeAndre.”
Wildcats Assistant Coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of 10 people – including four NCAA assistant coaches – named by federal prosecutors in the scandal that has rocked college basketball.
It is alleged that Richardson accepted approximately $20,000 from agents and in exchange, he would steer Arizona players to their companies once they reached the professional level. According to federal documents, the payments were then given to recruits to secure their commitments to Arizona.
Miller released his first public statement on the issue, which read:
“I was devastated to learn last week of the allegations made against Emanuel Richardson. I have expressed to both Dr. Robbins and our Athletic Director Dave Heeke that I fully support the University’s efforts to fully investigate these allegations. As the head basketball coach at the University of Arizona, I recognize my responsibility is not only to establish a culture of success on the basketball court and in the classroom but as important, to promote and reinforce a culture of compliance. To the best of my ability, I have worked to demonstrate this over the past 8 years and will continue to do so as we move forward.”
With the cloud of an investigation hovering over the team throughout the season, Miller said it presents an opportunity to reiterate important principles for his players moving forward.
“One of the things, one of the responsibilities I think you have as a college coach is making sure the guys know how to deal with the ups and downs of our game but really how it reflects life. It’s not always going to be happy, it’s not always going to go your way. Some of the things that you’re going to strive for might not happen, but in many regards how you deal with those times is the definition of who you are,” he said, “In 2017 it’s a much different world. There are a lot of people who have voices through social media and if you’re an athlete who competes at a very high level, an NFL player, an NBA player, competing for a college football national championship – we all preach the same thing – you have to eliminate the clutter, you have to understand that your circle has to be tight.”