FBI wiretaps intercepted telephone conversations between Arizona coach Sean Miller and Christian Dawkins, a key figure in the FBI's investigation into college basketball corruption, in which Miller discussed paying $100,000 to ensure star freshman Deandre Ayton signed with the Wildcats, sources familiar with the government's evidence told ESPN.
According to people with knowledge of the FBI investigation, Miller and Dawkins, a runner working for ASM Sports agent Andy Miller, had multiple conversations about Ayton. When Dawkins asked Sean Miller if he should work with assistant coach Emanuel "Book" Richardson to finalize their agreement, Miller told Dawkins he should deal directly with him when it came to money, the sources said.
The telephone calls between Sean Miller and Dawkins were among 3,000 hours of conversations intercepted from Dawkins' phone by the FBI.
Arizona released a statement saying Miller and the school agreed for him not to coach the Wildcats' game Saturday against Oregon, citing the "best interests of the University and the basketball program." The school announced that Ayton was eligible to play.
The Arizona board of regents met in an emergency executive session Saturday "to receive legal advice regarding the issue and plans to reconvene for updates and legal advice in the coming days."
"This is an emotionally charged issue but it is essential that we move forward decisively and based on facts," Regents chair Bill Ridenour said in a statement. "We must do everything we can to ensure that our programs are of the highest caliber as we must also protect the rights of all involved and respect due process for employees."
Ayton, a 7-foot-1 center who was born in the Bahamas, is considered one of the top freshmen in the country and a leading candidate for national player of the year honors. He is averaging 19.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game in what is expected to be his only college season, helping the No. 14 Wildcats lead the Pac-12 standings with two regular-season games to play.
ESPN analyst Jonathan Givony, in his latest mock selections, projects Ayton as the No. 2 prospect available for this year's NBA draft.
Richardson, who worked for Miller the previous 10 seasons at Xavier and Arizona, was one of four assistant coaches arrested by FBI agents on Sept. 27, after a two-year investigation into bribes and other corruption in the sport.
Richardson is accused of accepting $20,000 in bribes and paying a recruit to sign with the Wildcats. In exchange for the money, the government alleges, Richardson agreed to influence Arizona players to sign with Dawkins and financial adviser Munish Sood, who also was arrested by FBI agents.
Arizona formally fired Richardson on Jan. 11.
Richardson is charged with six felonies: conspiracy to commit bribery, solicitation of bribes by an agent of a federally funded organization, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, wire fraud conspiracy, mail fraud conspiracy and travel act conspiracy. He has pleaded not guilty and faces up to 60 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.
Oklahoma State's Lamont Evans, Auburn's Chuck Person and USC's Tony Bland were the other assistant coaches charged in the cases, along with Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code and former NBA referee Rashan Michel.
Dawkins, a former AAU director from Saginaw, Michigan, was charged with wire fraud in September after the government accused him of funneling money from Adidas to the families of high-profile recruits. Last week, a federal judge in New York declined to dismiss criminal indictments against Dawkins, Gatto and Code.
On Friday, Yahoo! Sports reported that players from more than 20 Division I men's basketball programs have been identified as possibly breaking NCAA rules through violations that were uncovered by the FBI's investigation into corruption in the sport.
Schools identified by Yahoo! as having players who possibly violated NCAA rules include Duke, North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan State, USC and Kansas. At least 25 players are linked to impermissible benefits, including Michigan State's Miles Bridges, Alabama's Collin Sexton and Duke's Wendell Carter Jr.
The documents detailed the work of Andy Miller and his agency. Yahoo! reported that the documents -- which include paperwork from 2015 through 2017 -- show cash advances as well as entertainment and travel expenses paid for college prospects and their families. They did not mention Sean Miller or Ayton.
Ayton moved from the Bahamas to San Diego, where he played two seasons of high school basketball. As a junior in 2015, he transferred to Hillcrest Prep Academy in Phoenix, where he played with current Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III. Ayton was ranked the No. 3 player in the 2017 ESPN 100, behind Bagley and current Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr.
Ayton committed to Arizona on Sept. 3, 2016, after also considering scholarship offers from Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland and San Diego State. When Ayton signed with the Wildcats, Sean Miller described him as "one of these once-in-a-generation types of players" because of his size and shooting ability.
After Richardson was arrested in late September, Arizona president Robert C. Robbins announced that the university had hired two law firms to conduct independent investigations into the matter.
Asked for a comment, Arizona reiterated statements issued by school athletic director Dave Heeke and Sean Miller in October when the investigations were announced.
At the time the investigations were announced, Robbins said in a statement, "Head coach Sean Miller has not been charged with -- nor accused of -- any misconduct and he has been fully cooperative and supportive of our efforts to determine the facts in pursuit of the truth. ... Based on the facts that we know at this time, we support Coach Miller and intend to provide him with all of the tools necessary to meet our goals and expectations."
@APlayersProgram BearDown it's time to clean house and bring home our own bloodlines to carry on Lutes Legacy. We have too much pride, too much tradition to allow outsiders to tear down what we built.— Jason Terry (@jasonterry31) February 24, 2018
Sean Miller, 49, is a three-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year and has a 242-72 record in his ninth season with the Wildcats. The Arizona board of regents approved a contract extension for him in February 2017, which increased his annual salary to at least $2.9 million through 2022. He has denied knowledge of Richardson's alleged scheme to bribe players to sign with Arizona.
"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," Miller said in a statement released in September. "To the best of my ability, I have worked to demonstrate this over the past eight years and will continue to do so as we move forward."
If Miller is fired for cause, his contract is written in such a way that he would still receive more than 85 percent of the money he is owed through May 31, 2022. However, he would lose a longevity bonus of an undisclosed amount, which Arizona was due to pay him in May 2020.
Miller's contract provides that even if he is fired with cause, the university would have to pay his base salary. The contract defines his base salary as his salary plus his peripheral salary. That adds up to roughly $10.3 million through May 2022. The only part that Miller wouldn't be entitled to is $1.7 million from Nike and IMG that is due to him if he completes his contract.
Keeping such a percentage on a firing for cause would be unprecedented. Most coaches who are fired for cause receive no additional money past their employment date. But the contract has no provision that waives the university's obligation to pay Miller what he is owed based on an NCAA violation. The contract makes no mention of the university's recourse if criminality is involved.
In a strange twist, Miller's contract somehow pays him more for getting fired with cause than without cause. The section in his contract that references him being fired with cause mentions no reduction in base salary upon firing. But if Arizona fires him without cause, there is a 50 percent reduction noted. So if Miller is fired with cause by the university, it will owe him approximately $5.15 million more ($10.3 million vs. $5.15 million) than if it fired him for no reason.
The contract also provides that if Miller commits an NCAA violation, he would have to pay up to $300,000 in damages to the university's coffers for the price of defending itself. If an NCAA violation occurs, Arizona has the right to claw back bonuses given to Miller during the time of the violation.
ESPN's Darren Rovell contributed to this report.