At Arizona, the Game Plan Is Truth but No Consequences

For his part, Arizona’s Miller has embraced a jut-chinned bellicosity. When a reporter from the ABC television affiliate in Phoenix went to a news conference and persisted in asking about corruption allegations, Miller, whose salary of $2.6 million makes him the highest paid official at his state’s namesake university, glowered.

“No comment,” Miller said. “You can drive back to Phoenix.”

Miller’s defenders in Tucson are legion. I spoke to a dozen fans in the arena before the game on the night of our scheduled sit-down and they offered a collective shrug. Corruption in college hoops? “I’m a very positive person, and I don’t believe the accusations,” said Fran Strubeck, a retiree and longtime fan of the Wildcats. “Sean Miller is far too much of an upstanding man for that.”

As I watched the prized Arizona freshmen run their layup line, not the least a mop-topped Nico Mannion, who is rumored to be an N.B.A. lottery pick this summer, I surfed the web. I found a local writer for FanSided, a sports site, who argued, strenuously, that the trial and recordings proved nothing. “Here’s why it’s not proof,” the writer concluded. “Simple, there’s no receipts.”

Such logic would no doubt prove comforting to hit men, drug dealers and all who conduct receiptless work.

Not long after my Tucson visit, I flew to Los Angeles in search of a more expert — not to mention candid — assessment. In the lobby of a Hollywood hotel, I sat with Christian Dawkins, who once had worked as a runner — think recruiter, fixer, junior associate — for a top N.B.A. agent. Last May, Dawkins was convicted of bribery for funneling money to teenage recruits and their families in exchange for their agreeing to play at various universities, including Arizona.

Dawkins is a worldly young fellow, a natty dresser with a short-clipped beard. His testimony at that trial last spring — which I attended — was a revelation, as with disarming candor he shined a klieg light on the play-for-cash business that is major college hoops.

Yes, he told prosecutors, he was a part of a machine that ensured that college players and their families got some cash. Yes, that violated N.C.A.A. regulations, and so what? As a young player’s career blossoms, particularly those from poor and working-class homes, many hands are extended. “Me, personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with paying players,” Dawkins said on the witness stand. “They are the only people in college basketball who can’t get paid.”