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Attorney says Arizona center Ayton has abided by all NCAA rules

Arizona's DeAndre Ayton, left, and Oregon's Payton Pritchard, with Arizona's Parker Jackson-Cartwright, right, battle for the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, in Eugene, Ore. (AP photo/Chris Pietsch)

The attorney obtained by the University of Arizona to conduct an internal investigation of the basketball program amid an FBI-involved scandal says center Deandre Ayton “has abided by all applicable rules and regulations.”

Paul Kelly, who was hired as outside counsel in October following the arrest of then-assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson, said in a statement to ESPN he is confident Ayton, a freshman, will retain full eligibility to continue playing this season.

Ayton is coming off a 28-point, 18-rebound performance Saturday in a loss to the Oregon Ducks, which came a day after an ESPN report said UA coach Sean Miller was allegedly heard on an FBI wiretap discussing a payment of $100,000 to earn a commitment from Ayton.

ESPN’s story by Mark Schlabach did not include any evidence that money exchanged hands or Ayton accepted any improper benefits.

Kelly said reports and suggestions in the media that Ayton should not be eligible “are false and unfounded.” He added that Ayton voluntarily interviewed with NCAA, federal and university compliance officials, plus an independent law firm regarding the potential acceptance of improper benefits.

“In each of these interviews, Mr. Ayton has credibly and consistently maintained that neither he nor any member of his family, nor any representative thereof, received any money or extra benefit to influence his decision to attend the University of Arizona,” Kelly’s statement read.

To close the statement, Kelly called Ayton an “outstanding and honorable young man who has been truthful and cooperative.”

A former assistant U.S. Attorney, Kelly released his statement after attorneys representing Ayton’s family gave their own statement to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, who broke the news of the wiretap scandal involving Miller on Friday.

That indicated the FBI interviewed Ayton more than six months ago and that the center, who is projected as a top-5 NBA Draft pick, chose to attend Arizona based on his familiarity with the coaching staff and the state, where he spent some time playing high school basketball.

Ayton is averaging 19.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game for Arizona (22-7), which has a home series against Cal and Stanford remaining in the regular season.

Miller did not coach Saturday’s game, as he and the school said stepping aside was in the “best interests” of the team.

Following the loss to Oregon, associate head coach Lorenzo Romar, who took over for Miller, said he did not know how long Miller would be away from the program.