UConn coach defends program
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As top-seeded Connecticut prepares for its Elite Eight game against Missouri, the school and its coach cannot escape the looming shadow of an NCAA investigation.
Jim Calhoun was asked again on Friday about what he should and should not have known in regards to possible NCAA violations.
But unlike the contrite and passive Calhoun who took the podium on Wednesday when the news first broke, this was a far more typical feisty Calhoun defending himself, arguing that if a mistake was made it wasn't intentional.
"I have done this for 37 years," he said. "I truly believe that everything I have tried to do I have done with a good, clean conscious and if we made a mistake, we’ll find out about it. if we didn’t we’ll also find out about that."
Connecticut is facing an NCAA investigation following a Yahoo! Sports report that alleges former player Nate Miles received improper benefits, including lodging and transportation, from a former student-manager turned player-agent and that the UConn staff made more than 1,500 phone calls to Miles and his representatives.
ESPN.com also has reported that Josh Nochimson, the former manager in question, represented Ater Majok during a summer-league basketball tournament. Majok is currently enrolled at UConn as a partial qualifier.
"The University is working collaboratively with the NCAA to conduct a thorough review of the issues raised in the recent news accounts regarding alleged recruiting violations in the men's basketball program," the school said in a release Saturday. "On Wednesday morning March 25th, soon after the article was posted, the University and NCAA enforcement staff initiated conversations on this matter. A comprehensive examination of the facts and circumstances involved has begun. The review is being conducted by the NCAA and the University in a manner consistent with NCAA enforcement procedures."
On Friday, the Tampa Tribune reported that Nochimson paid for Miles' knee surgery in 2007.
"Miles had no health insurance, I do know that," Dr. Christopher McLaren, the surgeon who operated on Miles, told the newspaper. "Josh called me and said how much is this going to cost. I said I don't know the exact cost. I don't do the billing. I gave him the number of the billing department."
McLaren said he later checked to make sure that the office had been paid.
"I remember this to a T," McLaren said. "I said, 'Did we get paid?' They told me, 'Yes, we got paid.'"
Nochimson is both a UConn booster and agent and if he made the payment, Miles would have been ineligible to play.
Asked about that latest twist, Calhoun refused comment.
"I have no response, thank you," he said.
Calhoun acknowledged that a mistake could have been made but said he believes it is impossible to know all of the intricacies of the ever-changing, every expanding NCAA rules.
Asked wasn't it his job to know the rules, Calhoun retorted, "Do you think every NCAA investigator knows what's in every one of those 508 pages? You think so?"
He pointed to a recent change that now counts voice mail messages as a phone call to a recruit as just one of the many switches that makes it virtually impossible to stay on top of it.
"No one in my opinion knows every single answer," he said. "It has to be put in context."
With all of the non-basketball news swirling around his program, Calhoun has insisted that his players were focused on nothing more than making it to the Final Four and winning a national championship.
He reiterated that on Friday. Asked if he thought he had become a distraction to his team, Calhoun said simply, No, I don't at all."
Calhoun said he spoke with athletic director Jeff Hathaway in the morning. Hathaway, the university's compliance office and outside counsel were continuing to dig through the accusations made in the initial Yahoo! Sports report.
Dana O’Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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