Aztecs basketball player Malik Pope cleared to play after suspension

Malik Pope #21 of the San Diego State Aztecs is fouled by Justin Strings #3 of the Sacramento State Hornets as he drives to the basket in the first half of the game at Titan Gym on November 23, 2017 in Fullerton, California. (Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO – San Diego State University senior forward Malik Pope will play in Tuesday night’s home game against Boise State, days after he was suspended following a report alleging he received an improper loan from a sports agency.

Pope was withheld from Saturday’s game at San Jose State University pending an internal investigation.

In a statement, Andy Humes, SDSU associate athletic director of compliance, said the university’s internal investigation “found no evidence that Malik received any impermissible benefits or violated any NCAA rules.”

The statement continues, “The NCAA Enforcement staff has been apprised of the internal investigation’s findings. Lastly, Malik and the men’s basketball staff have cooperated fully and willingly with SDSU at all times throughout the process.”

“Malik Pope will play tonight,” men’s basketball coach Brian Dutcher said. “I am grateful to (athletic director) John David Wicker and Andy Humes for their support in getting this resolved quickly. Malik and I spoke Friday morning after the story was first published. He told me immediately that he did not accept money and did not know either of these two individuals linked to the report. That said, it was important for Malik, as well as the program and University, to make sure there was a thorough review process. We shared our findings with the NCAA and informed them that Malik will be playing in games beginning tonight.”

Pope released the following statement:

“I, along with my family, have never had contact nor accepted anything from the two people named in the story. Since the report, I have worked with our compliance office to show that I have not broken any NCAA rules. I want to thank the San Diego State community for their support and faith in me during this process. I look forward to joining my teammates on the court this week for our final two regular season games.”

Yahoo Sports reported the alleged improper benefit Friday, citing court documents the outlet obtained that are part of a federal criminal case against corruption in the National Collegiate Athletic Association that already swept up former Aztec player and coach Tony Bland. The new documents published by Yahoo Sports show a wide-ranging and growing scandal that now implicates many of college basketball’s top players, coaches and universities.

The story was based on expense reports, balance sheets, banks records and a list of cash advances that federal investigators apparently obtained from prominent former NBA agent Andy Miller, his agency, ASM Sports, and his former associate Christian Dawkins. Miller and Dawkins are central to the corruption investigation and are charged with paying bribes and other improper benefits to players, their families, coaches and others in an attempt to gain influence.

Pope was not named specifically in the Yahoo Sports story, but his name appeared on the list of players who allegedly received a cash advance from Miller, an NBA agent at the time. According to that list, Pope received $1,400 sometime before the end of 2015.

The alleged loan was one of about 30 such payments made to college basketball players by ASM Sports, according to the leaked balance sheet. Pope’s alleged loan was larger than about 10 other such payments but paled in comparison to the largest loan, which was allegedly made for more than $52,000 to Jarell Martin, a forward for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies who played for Louisiana State University at the time.

Pope enrolled at SDSU in the fall of 2014, arriving on campus as the most heralded and highly rated recruit in the history of the Aztecs’ basketball program. Some pundits thought he would play only his freshman year before leaving for the NBA, but injuries have plagued the talented 6-foot-10-inch forward for much of his career.

Pope is scheduled to play in his final home game on Saturday against Nevada.

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