Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 | 12:49 p.m.
The college basketball landscape is currently being rearranged by a pay-for-play scandal that has already touched (and toppled) some of the nation’s elite programs, but at UNLV’s first practice of the season on Saturday, head coach Marvin Menzies expressed confidence that his team won't be affected by the investigation.
“I know how we do things,” Menzies said. “I know how I do things. I’m very confident we have nothing to worry about here. I’m very confident about the future of the program. I’m excited for it.”
An F.B.I. investigation found evidence of agents and shoe companies funneling money to AAU coaches, handlers and prep players in an effort to steer top recruits to certain college programs. Two of men implicated in the scandal, legendary Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and USC assistant Tony Bland, have connections to Menzies.
Menzies was an assistant under Pitino at Louisville from 2005-07, and prior to that he recruited and coached Bland as an assistant at San Diego State. Pitino has served as a mentor to Menzies and advocated for him publicly as someone deserving of a high-profile head coaching job.
Menzies said that he saw no evidence of rule-breaking while he was at Louisville, and that he believes Pitino is clean.
“You guys know I worked for him for a couple years,” Menzies said. “I can’t speak to what’s going on now with all of that stuff, because obviously I don’t have any knowledge of any of those things. But I will say that my time spent with coach Pitino was very good for me, in my professional growth. And I will say that I have a lot of love for coach, and I can speak to my time with him, he was always very conscientious of us doing things the right way and very ethical. So all of this is shocking to a whole lot of people, and the people who actually worked with coach. It’s just one of those deals where it’s very hard to believe that he knew about that stuff.”
Pitino, a two-time national championship winner, was put on administrative leave and effectively fired last week, while Bland was arrested on fraud and bribery charges and released on bail.
Menzies brought in the Mountain West’s best recruiting class this offseason, beating out some premier programs for freshmen Brandon McCoy and Amauri Hardy and junior college transfer Shakur Juiston. The Rebels even beat out Louisville for freshman big man Mbacke Diong.
Given that success on the recruiting trail and his linkage with Pitino and Bland, Menzies realizes that there will be questions about how he managed to do it. But he said he’s now focused on the upcoming season and not what people may be saying about his program.
“I think people are going to assume whatever they’re going to assume,” Menzies said. “I think anybody that knows me or has interacted with me knows my ethics and my values, and my family values. So I’m not too worried about that.”