NCAA launches investigation of Arizona program

The NCAA has launched an investigation into the Arizona men's basketball program, a university spokesman confirmed to the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson on Friday night.

In response to an open records request, Arizona officials would not release the school's communication with the NCAA to the newspaper because "investigations into the University of Arizona men's basketball program are ongoing at this time."

A spokesman later acknowledged to the Daily Star that "an NCAA investigation is underway."

The university issued this statement on Saturday: "The University of Arizona is correcting recent inaccurate media reports. Any reports stating that the NCAA has either "started" or "launched" a new investigation at the University of Arizona are entirely false. To be clear, we will continue to cooperate fully with any NCAA proceedings in the best interest of the University and the men's basketball program."

A school spokesman later declined to explain why the Arizona Daily Star was told Friday night an investigation was underway.

Former Arizona assistant Emanuel "Book" Richardson pleaded guilty in January to accepting $20,000 in bribes to steer Arizona players to aspiring sports manager Christian Dawkins and certain financial advisers once they turned pro.

During a federal criminal trial in New York this week, Dawkins testified that he had a "pretty good" relationship with Arizona coach Sean Miller and didn't need to bribe Richardson to get Wildcats players as clients.

Miller has adamantly denied paying players to attend Arizona.

In response to a public records request ESPN submitted Feb. 6, asking for certain correspondence with the NCAA regarding the men's basketball program, Arizona responded on March 28, stating "investigations into the UA men's basketball program are ongoing at this time," and, as a result, the university could not release any potentially responsive records.

Mark Moore, an attorney for co-defendant Merl Code, a former Adidas consultant, asked Dawkins if Miller "knew what was going on" in regards to alleged payments to Arizona players. A federal prosecutor objected before Dawkins answered.

Dawkins also testified during the trial that he refused to cooperate with federal prosecutors and refused to testify against former NBA agent Andy Miller and college basketball head coaches.

"Isn't it true the government wanted you to testify against your bosses at ASM and you wouldn't?" defense attorney Steven Haney asked Dawkins.

"Yes," Dawkins said.

"Isn't it true the government wanted you to testify against a bunch of head basketball coaches in this country and you wouldn't do it?" Haney continued.

"No, I wouldn't," Dawkins answered.

There are myriad issues and alleged violations for NCAA investigators to examine at Arizona, including:

* Federal prosecutors on Wednesday played a recording of a phone call in which Richardson told Dawkins that Sean Miller was paying star center Deandre Ayton $10,000 per month while he was enrolled at the school.

Last week, federal prosecutors played a surveillance recording of a meeting on June 6, 2017, in which Dawkins talks about Ayton and says Miller told him, "I'm taking care of everything myself. I wanna bring you in. I'll turn everything over to you." Former financial adviser Marty Blazer, a cooperating witness for the government, was present at the June 2017 meeting and testified last week that the reference was about Miller "taking care" of payments for Ayton.

During a telephone call, which FBI wiretaps intercepted on June 2, 2017, Dawkins told his business partner Munish Sood that Miller "fronted" the deal for Ayton to sign with Arizona. "[Richardson] already made it clear you're gonna get, or we're gonna get, the No. 1 pick next year, assuming he's No. 1," Sood said during the call. "It's going to be more money than what they, what Book, said. I mean, because I talked to Sean," Dawkins told Sood. "Sean's the one that fronted that deal. So it's going to be some money, but, I mean, we'll figure that out."

* Richardson also said during a surveillance recording that he was making $2,000 monthly payments to Rodney Labossiere, cousin of former Arizona guard Rawle Alkins, who was living in Tucson. "His cousin moved to Tucson, which I'm highly against," Richardson said. "I never want the parents or anyone to move there. I'll give you two grand a month to make sure it works. But he brought him, his wife and his child. Wrong move." The payments to Labossiere were allegedly made while Alkins was still playing for the Wildcats.

* In July 2017, Richardson asked for an additional $15,000 from Dawkins and Sood to give to the mother of 2018 recruit Jahvon Quinerly of Hackensack, New Jersey. Richardson said he planned to make three payments of $5,000 each and would also pay her $10,000 of his own money.

"The purpose of that payment was simple," assistant U.S. attorney Noah Solowiejczyk told the jury in closing arguments on Friday. "Dawkins wanted to get the money to Richardson so Richardson could get the recruit for Arizona, and then Richardson could steer that player back to him when he turned pro."

* Other allegations of rules violations surfaced during an October federal criminal trial, in which a jury convicted Code and Dawkins of bribery charges in a pay-for-play scheme to steer recruits to Adidas-sponsored schools. Brian Bowen Sr., the father of five-star recruit Brian Bowen Jr., testified that Dawkins told him that then-Arizona associate head coach Joe Pasternack offered $50,000 for his son to sign with the Wildcats in the spring of 2017. Pasternack is now the head coach at UC Santa Barbara.

* Also in the October trial, jurors heard wiretapped recordings in which Code and former Adidas executive James Gatto discussed Arizona's alleged offer of $150,000 to sign then-rising senior Nassir Little and whether the shoe company would match the sum to send the five-star recruit to the University of Miami, which is sponsored by Adidas. "The problem is, Arizona's offered the kid 150, and we're trying to keep him from going to one of their schools," Code told Gatto on one call. "So, it was brought to me through [Little's grassroots coach] Brad [Augustine] and Christian, who said, 'Hey, do you think Jim would be able to keep him at Miami, because they really want the kid.'"

* In February, Arizona officials suspended assistant coach Mark Phelps and initiated the process to terminate his contract. University of Arizona president Robert C. Robbins told the Daily Star that it was his understanding that the school was letting Phelps' contract expire on June 30.

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.