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Sean Miller denies alleged DeAndre Ayton payment, but ESPN stands by report

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Sean Miller and ESPN are going to war over the report that Miller tried to set up payments for DeAndre Ayton.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Oregon State Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, it appeared Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller was set to lose his job over alleged involvement in a pay-for-play scheme with DeAndre Ayton.

According to the original ESPN report, Miller was involved in a payment set up for Ayton, but there have since been separate reports that suggest ESPN may have been wrong about Miller’s involvement.

After Miller was kept from coaching in last Saturday’s loss at Oregon, he rejoined the team on Thursday, and in the process, issued some strong words against the original report.

“Let me be very, very clear: I have never discussed with Christian Dawkins paying Deandre Ayton to attend the University of Arizona,” Miller said. “In fact, I never even met or spoke to Christian Dawkins until after Deandre publicly announced he was coming to our school. Any reporting to the contrary is inaccurate, false and defamatory.”

But right after Miller issued those statements, ESPN said it’s sticking with its original report.

Miller and Dawkins had multiple conversations about Ayton, sources told ESPN. When Dawkins asked 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.

Miller did not mention ESPN by name in his comments Thursday and did not take questions after making his statement. ESPN stands by its reporting on Miller and the FBI investigation.

While he may be innocent, his is still a bad look for Miller and Ayton, who was at one time a big UK target in the Class of 2017. But then Ayton made a surprise announcement that he was committing to Arizona.

Arizona has looked like a Final Four contender at times this season, but now, it’s untelling how they’ll even be seeded in the NCAA Tournament, especially after they just lost their second-best player — Allonzo Trier — to a PED suspension.

Also, the next question for Miller is what he did talk to Dawkins about, because it’s pretty clear that he did. Intentional or not, he even hinted at it when he said “I never even met or spoke to Christian Dawkins until after Deandre publicly announced he was coming to our school.”

That “until after” part suggests Miller did in fact speak with Dawkins at some point, which alone is a red flag.