As Dana Altman stepped in front of reporters for the first time since his program was accused in U.S. District Court of offering to pay for a recruit, the Oregon men's basketball coach went on the defensive before the first question was asked.
“The claims that have been focused at our program are all false,” Altman said to open his preseason press conference Friday afternoon at Matthew Knight Arena. “We do not pay players. We never have and we never will. I do want to thank President (Michael) Schill and (athletic director) Rob Mullens for their support the last couple days. I’m not going to answer any more questions about that, but I did want to make that statement.”
Questions about the accusations followed and Altman answered each one as he refuted the reports that emerged this week from a trial in New York where three men are accused of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud while trying to place recruits at certain schools.
An attorney for Adidas executive Jim Gatto said Tuesday that Oregon offered an “astronomical amount of money” last year to top recruit Brian Bowen if he signed with the Ducks. The following day in court, the two men on trial with Gatto — Merl Code and Christian Dawkins — were heard on a secretly recorded tape describing Oregon’s offer to Bowen as “astronomical."
Brian Bowen Sr. said on Thursday that he could “not recall” getting a financial offer from the Ducks to send his son to Oregon. Brian Bowen eventually signed with Louisville last season and later switched to South Carolina, although he was never cleared to play at either school.
The trial continues Tuesday with Bowen Sr. returning to the stand, but Altman said he had no concerns about any more allegations coming out against his program. Asked if he ever heard of anyone at Nike or a UO booster offering money to recruits, Altman said: "No."
The allegation came during the opening week of practice as the Ducks move within one month of opening the season Nov. 6 against Portland State.
Sophomore forward Kenny Wooten said he had not heard much about the trial and junior guard Payton Pritchard had a similar response.
“I don’t go on social media or anything like that,” Pritchard said. “I haven’t been following it so I don’t have any comment on it.”
University administrators defended Altman and his program Thursday, saying an investigation into the men's basketball program and interviews with the coaching staff “found no evidence of NCAA violations."
“We feel confident that coach Dana Altman and members of his staff uphold the highest standards of integrity in recruiting,” the statement added.
Assistant coaches Kevin McKenna and Tony Stubblefield have been on Altman’s staff since he arrived at Oregon in 2010. McKenna also worked with Altman during his final nine seasons at Creighton before being hired by the Ducks.
Mike Mennenga is beginning his fifth season on the staff.
“I’ve got a great staff, good guys that have worked a long time for me,” Altman said. “I feel very confident in my staff. I think we work very hard to do a good job and the results have shown.”
The Ducks have been hosting high-profile recruits with the fall signing period beginning Nov. 14.
“Recruits have been great,” Altman said. “People who were considering us are still considering us. We’ve got a lot of work to do to try and tie up the class, but we have had a great response.”
Altman said he had no warning that his program was going to be mentioned in a trial that does not include anyone from Oregon on the witness list.
“Nothing has changed,” Altman said. “Practices have been the same and the people who know me, know me. The university has been great and Rob has been great, so nothing has changed here.”