Where others see a cloud hanging over the University of Miami men’s basketball team’s historic rise to No. 2 in the nation, the players and coach Jim Larranaga see only a silver lining.
The NCAA delivered its Notice of Allegations to UM on Tuesday, and the list did not include an accusation that was initially thought to be among the most severe facing the athletic program when the investigation began two years ago.
There was no finding that former player DeQuan Jones was bribed with $10,000 to sign with UM as ex-booster and convicted Ponzi-schemer Nevin Shapiro alleged.
Nor will former coach Frank Haith be charged with unethical conduct, although he faces the lesser charge of failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.
The basketball program is still in trouble with the NCAA because of what occurred during Haith’s tenure, but if the case proceeds to a committee on infractions hearing in July, the timeline would have no effect on the team’s hopes for a high seeding and fruitful run in the NCAA Tournament next month.
Receipt of the Notice of Allegations was acknowledged by UM president Donna Shalala late in the second half of UM’s 54-50 victory over Virginia, which Shalala attended.
The concluding weeks of the investigation, including the NCAA’s admission that 20 percent of its evidence was discarded because of enforcement staff’s unethical behavior, have coincided with UM’s climb in the polls to the loftiest ranking in school history.
Larranaga said developments in the case have not and will not impede his team’s progress. UM has won 14 games in a row and is 13-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“If it was overshadowing what we were doing, this room would not be packed,” Larranaga said in his postgame news conference Tuesday. “We’re getting so much exposure. We can only focus on the things we have control over. We have nothing to do with the investigation. We have a very able-bodied administration to take care of those things.”
The senior-laden team isn’t going to let its sense of urgency be dampened by the NCAA distraction, center Reggie Johnson said.
“We were on the outside looking in, and now we can play with the top dogs — Indiana, Kansas,” Johnson said. “We’re still hungry. I’m not going to say we’re the best, but we’re up there.”
Should the Hurricanes advance to the Final Four, NCAA president Mark Emmert will be in Atlanta to shake their hands. Johnson was suspended by the NCAA for one game last season because his mother accepted a free plane ticket from former UM assistant coach Jorge Fernandez. Starter Durand Scott was suspended a total of six games for receiving impermissible benefits. Jones, now with the Orlando Magic, was suspended 11 games by UM as he and his family vigorously denied it was ever made.
Fernandez and former UM assistant Jake Morton are named in the allegations for recruiting violations that involved entertaining the high school and AAU coaches of recruits at a nightclub, Bal Harbour Shops and Shapiro’s Dolphins stadium suite. Morton, now the assistant of basketball operations at Western Kentucky, is accused of accepting “supplemental income” of $6,000 from Shapiro, who is in prison.
Haith, now coach at Missouri, is accused of slipshod oversight and indicated he may challenge the charge.
Larranaga has acknowledged that the August, 2011, news of Shapiro’s claims hurt his recruiting in the fall of 2011, when he signed his first UM class after arriving from George Mason in April, 2011.
Anticipated NCAA sanctions scared away recruits during the early, prime signing period in November, when Larranaga signed only two prospects. But UM was also not yet one of the hottest teams in college basketball.
Larranaga, who will lose five seniors after the season, has five roster spots available to fill during the late signing period in April assuming sophomore point guard Shane Larkin does not opt to enter the NBA Draft. NCAA sanctions will likely not be known at that time.
Only seven recruits among the top 150 listed on Rivals.com have not made commitments. UM, which will have major frontcourt holes to fill, is still in the running for three top-rated players, including 6-9 Demetrius Henry of Brandon. The two recruits he signed in November are 6-1 guard Deandre Burnett of Carol City High and Massanutten (Va.) Military Academy and 6-6 swingman Davon Reed of Princeton, N.J.