COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri coach Frank Haith said Monday that he is fully cooperating with the NCAA in the latest round of trouble at the University of Miami, his home for seven years before taking over the Tigers this season.
The Hurricanes declared center Reggie Johnson ineligible over the weekend, saying his family received impermissible travel benefits from an unidentified member of Miami's staff when Haith was in charge of the program.
Miami has asked the NCAA to reinstate Johnson, and said the player wasn't aware of the possible NCAA violation and didn't directly receive anything. A written statement issued by Miami said that Johnson's "family was told (the extra benefits) were permissible by that member of the former basketball coaching staff."
On Monday, Haith declined to directly answer a question about the latest allegations to rock Miami, even as he offered sympathy for his former player and tried to steer their conversation back to his new school.
"We're doing some great things here at Missouri," he said. "We're cooperating with the NCAA fully. I'll just be glad when this thing's over with."
Haith called Johnson's suspension with three regular season games remaining "disappointing."
"Reggie is a wonderful young man, and you hate to see anyone have their career delayed." Haith said. "It's tough. I feel bad for him and his family, and I know he'll get through it, though."
Despite losing forward Laurence Bowers to a season-ending knee injury before the first game and inheriting just seven scholarship players, Haith has drawn rave reviews in his first season in Columbia. No. 7 Missouri (25-4, 12-4 Big 12) remains poised for a high NCAA tournament seed even after an 87-86 overtime loss at Kansas over the weekend.
Questions about his off-court conduct have dogged Haith since soon after his arrival nearly 11 months ago
A former Hurricanes booster, Nevin Shapiro, told Yahoo Sports that Haith approved a $10,000 payment to then-Miami recruit DeQuan Jones. Haith has denied that allegation, and Jones has since been cleared to play by Miami after initially being sidelined this season.
Miami said the improper travel benefits tied to Johnson were discovered as part of the "ongoing joint" inquiry by the school and the NCAA after Shapiro's claims of providing cash, cars, prostitutes and other impermissible benefits to 72 Miami football players and other athletes between 2002 and 2010 with the knowledge of at least six coaches and as many as 10 athletic department employees overall. Shapiro has not been linked to the current situation involving Johnson.
Missouri athletic director Mike Alden, who highlighted Haith's high character when the new coach was introduced in Columbia, declined an interview request through a school spokesman. Alden has previously offered qualified support of Haith but has emphasized the importance of allowing the NCAA investigation to fully unfold.
Haith reiterated to reporters that he was restricted from publicly discussing his former player at Miami.
"I'm not allowed to talk about anything to do with that in terms of my involvement," he said. "I'm doing everything the NCAA asks me to do."
Miami coach Jim Larranaga said Johnson can still practice with the team until the situation is resolved. Miami plays at North Carolina State on Wednesday.
"Hopefully we'll get Reggie back soon," Larranaga said. "He has been very upbeat, working hard and preparing himself for the time he will be available to us again."
Associated Press Sports Writer Steven Wine in Miami contributed to this report.
Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at http://twitter.com/azagier