Sunday, February 26, 2012
Miami rules Reggie Johnson ineligible
ESPN.com news services
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami center Reggie Johnson has been declared ineligible by the Hurricanes after an investigation revealed that members of his family took impermissible travel benefits that the university said came from a member of former coach Frank Haith's staff.
The Hurricanes said Johnson was not aware of the benefits and personally received nothing. Miami has asked the NCAA for a speedy decision on whether Johnson can be reinstated.
"The University of Miami ... is seeking his immediate reinstatement," read a statement distributed by school officials about an hour before tipoff of the Hurricanes' game against Florida State (No. 16 ESPN/USA Today, No. 15 AP). Miami -- which is on the NCAA bubble -- beat the Seminoles 78-62, certainly helping its postseason resume.
The NCAA could issue its decision about Johnson's eligibility at any time. Miami (17-10, 8-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) has its final two regular-season games this coming week, at North Carolina State on Wednesday and then home against Boston College on Saturday.
"It's my understanding Reggie and his family didn't do anything wrong," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "They didn't know of any impermissible benefit. It was somebody else that did that. Reggie's already paid a dear price, missing this game."
Johnson was not available for comment. He wrote on his Twitter account after the game, "Yessirrr good team win."
Attempts to reach Johnson's family in Winston-Salem, N.C. were unsuccessful. When asked if he was aware which former coaching-staff member provided the alleged benefit, Larranaga said, "You'll have to talk to someone who's more knowledgeable than I am."
Raphael Akpejiori started in Johnson's place in the team's 78-62 win over the Seminoles, while Johnson took a seat on the bench with his teammates. Johnson has been aware of the investigation for several days, but his teammates were not told that he was declared ineligible until Sunday's pregame shootaround.
Larranaga said he was told on Wednesday that the NCAA wanted to speak with Johnson, and that meeting that took place a day later. The university then declared Johnson ineligible on Friday, though some around the program -- including Larranaga himself -- hoped the process would be completed before Sunday's game.
Larranaga said Johnson was disappointed, but even with the uncertainty over his future swirling, had strong practices on Friday and Saturday.
"We just told him to keep his head up," Hurricanes forward Kenny Kadji said.
Johnson is averaging 10.6 points and 6.9 rebounds this season for Miami, which was rocked last summer when allegations made by former booster and convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro -- mostly involving the football program -- were unveiled in an article published by Yahoo! Sports. Shapiro's claims sparked a department-wide investigation into compliance practices.
Shapiro is not linked to the current situation, which was discovered by the NCAA. The NCAA and the university have been cooperating on a joint investigation for months.
"In the process of the ongoing joint NCAA-UM inquiry, it was discovered that members of Johnson's family received impermissible travel benefits from a member of the former basketball coaching staff," the university's statement said. "Johnson was unaware of the benefits and his family was told they were permissible by that member of the former basketball coaching staff."
A message left for Haith, now the coach at Missouri and a national coach of the year candidate, was not immediately returned. Haith is not named in the university's statement, nor is there any reference to which coach was involved in giving the travel benefits for Johnson's family or what those benefits were.
In matters like this, schools are the ones who typically declare athletes ineligible, then appeal to the NCAA to reinstatement. That was the order of events last fall when members of the Hurricanes' football team were found to have accepted so-called "extra benefits" such as cash, nightclub access and lavish meals from Shapiro. The NCAA reinstated those players, though many had to serve suspensions that ranged from one (in most cases) to up to six games.
"What I do know is we've got a great group of kids and they have fought through this since basically August," Larranaga said. "And to have it come up now is very unfortunate. But you see the quality of their character by how they played today."
While Shapiro's claims made last August were primarily about football, there was a basketball tie in which he said he paid $10,000 to help ensure that DeQuan Jones signed with the Hurricanes. Shapiro also told Yahoo! Sports that Jake Morton, who was on Miami's staff at the time as an assistant coach, was involved with that transaction.
Haith has denied Shapiro's claim repeatedly in recent months.
In November, Miami announced that Jones would sit out the season because of the investigation, but the university changed course in December and said Jones could play, adding that decision was made in consultation with the NCAA.
Johnson missed nine games at the start of the season while recovering from offseason knee surgery.
"It's the game of basketball," Miami guard Durand Scott said. "If one person goes down, you can't quit. I'm pretty sure he wanted us to step up. ... He practiced like a champion to prepare us for this game."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.