At this point, it almost doesn’t matter whether or not Deandre Ayton received a payment from Arizona or another affiliated party during his recruitment. As the second trial in the FBI’s college basketball corruption case continues in Manhattan, Ayton’s name has become synonymous with the black market perpetuated by wildly antiquated NCAA bylaws that continues to determine talent distribution in the sport.
Arizona has been involved in this mess since the very beginning, when assistant coach Book Richardson was arrested in the feds’ initial probe. Ayton’s name entered the mix a few short months later as ESPN dropped a massive report detailing a wiretapped conversation where Sean Miller allegedly discussed a $100K payment to procure Ayton. The timeline of that initial report didn’t match up with Ayton’s recruitment, and ESPN had to issue a correction.
Ayton’s name has come up again this week as another trial started in Manhattan. This time, $10K per month is the number in question. A wiretapped phone call between Richardson and disgraced agency runner Christian Dawkins was played in court, which inferred that’s how much Miller paid Ayton while he was at Arizona.
”We’ll see how Sean plays it out,” Dawkins said.
”You know what he bought per month?” Richardson asked.
”What he do?” Dawkins asked.
”I told you — 10,” Richardson replied.
”He’s putting up some real money for them [expletive],” Dawkins responded. “He told me he’s getting killed.”
”But that’s his fault,” Richardson said.
Like almost everything else that has come out during this trial, the recording feels damning but not exactly concrete. Perhaps Miller and Arizona will wiggle their way out of this only to welcome another top-ranked recruiting class next year. Regardless, the court of public opinion seems to have already made up its mind. If you Google Ayton’s name right now, no one is talking about his productive rookie season for the Phoenix Suns. Every result is about whether or not he got paid under the table in college.
Maybe Ayton did get a payment, somewhere between $10K per month or $100K total. We’ll likely never know for sure. But even if it’s true, one thing is for sure: Arizona got a bargain.