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Disaster at St. John’s

February 10, 2004 Columns No Comments

Something Happened at St. John’s…

by Jim Woods

A disaster happened at St. John’s last week. I’m sure most of you have followed the story, therefore I will only provide the basic details to refresh your memories. They suffered an embarrassing loss at Pittsburgh Wednesday night. The loss paled in comparison to what went on after the game. Players decided to violate a curfew and unwind after the loss at Club Erotica. From there, three of the players decided that bringing a woman back to their hotel for some group sex was a good idea. Then when the players would not fulfill their financial end of the sex agreement, the woman filed a false claim of rape. One of the players had recorded the conversation so the players were not charged with the crime, but the damage was more than done. One player, Grady Reynolds, was immediately expelled from school. The two other players who participated in the menage-a-quad (?), Elijah Ingram and Abe Keita, face expulsion early this week. Three additional players violated curfew and are suspended from the team indefinitely.

So what happened? What went wrong? Who is to blame? Listen to talk radio or read the New York papers like I do and you will hear all sorts of answers. Of course the “kill the coach” mindset that permeates society within the New York metropolitan area (i.e. Jim Fassel, Byron Scott, Don Cheney) wants to blame former coach Mike Jarvis and interim coach Kevin Clark. Jarvis deserves some of the blame, no doubt about it. He was responsible for bringing these kids to St. John’s. He gave Grady Reynolds a second chance after an incident on campus last year with a female student. So if you want to blame Jarvis go ahead and throw some his way. Should Kevin Clark be the fall guy? According to him and St. John’s administration, the proper procedures for away games were followed. He had a midnight curfew for his team. The time frame that I am aware of regarding this incident has the events taking place between the hours of 2:30am and 4:00am. Plenty of time for the players to sneak out after the curfew. Were Clark and his assistants supposed to stay up all night? Maybe catch some shut-eye in a folding chair in the hallway? I’ve been in that spot before. You check the rooms at midnight and if the players are there you get into bed and try to catch some sleep before an early flight home. Are coaches now expected not to sleep and be on night patrol? Now if I am told that there was no checking of the rooms or the coaches decided that after the guys were in bed they would go out themselves, then I would have a problem with their actions. I have yet to hear that was the case.

I heard some more good stuff on the radio. One host said something to the effect of “couldn’t the coaches here the orgy that was in session on their floor.” I don’t know about any of you, but Jenna Jameson, Ron Jeremy, and Peter North could be shooting a porno scene in the room next to me at the Crowne Plaza, and I’m sleeping through it if I’m already in bed. I sleep through fire alarms, which I know isn’t a good thing. Then here was another good one from Michael Kay on 1050AM in New York: “Why do they have to fly to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, play Wednesday and fly home Thursday morning?” Hello, Michael, its St. John’s. They have antiquated facilities on campus. Do you think they are spending the money on a charter flight? Nearly every school in the country is in the same boat when it comes to travel. Some have charters to get them back right after the game, but it is not the norm. You can’t fly day of the game (risk of delay, fatigue) so you leave the day before. You can’t fly home after because it is too late to get a flight. The travel procedures are certainly not to blame because everybody handles this relatively the same.

Let’s get right to it then. Some young men made an absolutely horrible error in judgement. It’s that simple. What they did is absolutely 100% wrong and they deserve whatever punishment they get, be it university or legal. I don’t care about coaches who, God forbid, got some sleep and did not hear the exodus from the hotel floor or the subsequent orgy. I don’t want to hear about mishandled travel plans or procedures. The majority of the blame goes right to the culprits. That is how the St. John’s administration wants to handle this, and I can’t say I disagree with them. They are not firing their second coach of the season, and they should not. Unfortunately (and I referred to this in last weeks column), when you coach you are putting your future and the well being of your family in the hands of college-aged kids. Kids who still make stupid decisions. These stupid decisions have brought one of college basketball’s most storied programs to rock bottom.

But then another thing happened at St. John’s this weekend. The talk moved from lap dances to layups. They played another game, and I watched every second of it. What I saw was something I truly enjoyed, and many proud St. John’s fans and supporters will not soon forget.

The remaining eight players (including four walk-ons) and three coaches took the floor to take on Boston College. These eight knew they were up against a wall and came out with everything they had. These are eight that showed by not breaking curfews and going to strip clubs that they have pride in the St. John’s jersey. They were not going to let down the 7,453 who came to basketball Mecca to watch a game go home disappointed. Kyle Cuffe, Daryll “Showtime” Hill and other regular contributor Andre Stanley played with a passion that has not been seen around St. John’s basketball all year. And then there were the dreamers. Curtis Johnson, a 7-3 Jarvis project that that looks like it will be finished around the same time as Boston’s “Big Dig,” gave everything his body could until he fouled out. Senior walk-on Phil Missere found himself in the position of starting for the Red Storm, a starting position his cousin Robert Werdann once had. The difference being Werdann as not cut from his upstate New York high school team as a junior. All Missere did was hit an eighteen-footer from the corner the first time he shot the ball. Other walk-ons Nygel Roach, Joe McDonald and Devin Mayo were all over the court making the most of their opportunity.

The Red Storm hung tough for about twenty-five minutes. Missere outplayed BC star Craig Smith during that time. “Showtime” was pushing the ball and Stanley rebounded like a big man. The wheels eventually started to come off as fatigue set in, but the effort never died. There was a passion in the Red Storm’s play that was untapped all year. Let’s not forget that with the “big-time” scholarship players, who thought Club Erotica was a good spot for a post game meal, the Johnnies were already 0-8 in the Big East. The cameras showed fans in the stands holding up the 80’s “We Are St. John’s” placards. These people who were ridiculed and razzed by friends all week at work because their school was a laughingstock, could now get out of their seats and cheer. Joe McDonald knocked down a deep three-pointer and the crowd responded as if it was Chris Mullin off a feed from Mike Moses. Johnson and Missere fouled out late and received standing ovations. Do you think Missere ever dreamed he would get thirteen and five against Boston College in the Garden and walk off the floor to a standing ovation?

Finally, Mayo knocked down on a three on the buzzer to end it all at 89-61. Once again the crowd rose as one and applauded their team’s effort. It wasn’t about winning and losing to those fans yesterday. It was about recognizing players who make the right decision. They take pride in their school and lay it out on the line. Is the program still in shambles? Of course it is. But don’t penalize the eight players who will wear that uniform proudly the rest of the year. They have a heart and determination to make you proud. Kevin Clark’s coaching career may have taken a major hit last week, but you can never take yesterday’s effort from him. Because another thing I noticed happened yesterday at St. John’s, Kevin Clark smiled.

Other Notes from “The Sideline”

• I had to laugh last week before the court’s ruling last week in regards to Maurice Clarett. Prior to winning his case the NCAA was looking into Clarett’s eligibility because of a friendship with somebody who has “ties to gambling”. Can we be a little more specific, please? My buddies Ryan and Kevin have betonsports.com accounts. Is that a tie to gambling? Am I no longer allowed to coach at an NCAA institution because of my friendship with them?

• Not to make light of the situation at St. John’s but I tend to believe the 38 year-old woman who had sex with the players when she told the press she was not a prostitute. I have no dealings in that situation, but I would think on the first day of Hooker 101 class you are taught to take the money up front, then perform your trick.

• Much has been written and publicized about the match-up this past Friday night between Yale and Columbia, as brothers James (Yale) and Joe (Columbia) coached against one another. I don’t have anything to add to this story, other than both are truly first-class individuals with outstanding futures. A “sideline salute” to both of you.

• The Levitra/Viagra/Cialis Just How Long Can They Keep It Up Award: Stanford and St. Joe’s. Both teams continue to take care of their business and have yet to lose. St. Joe’s beat up on LaSalle as they look ahead to Dayton on Wednesday. The Cardinal got the miracle shot they needed to beat Arizona on Saturday. They are starting to look like a team of destiny, but beware of the rivalry game at Cal this weekend.

• I had a funny feeling watching Duke and Carolina the other night that I might be watching a Final Four team. And it’s not the one you think. Remember that in March when it is time to make picks.

• Something coaches that face Duke the rest of the year are going to take from that film is how UNC guarded JJ Reddick. The Heels did an outstanding job in the second half of maintaining their discipline defensively and not helping off Reddick on any type of dribble penetration. His defender was only responsible for him and had no help side or double team responsibilities. Jackie Manual and Melvin Scott deserve credit for their defensive performance, and Reddick deserves credit for continuing to work and coming up with a huge driving basket in overtime.

• A bigger disappointment: Missouri’s season or last week’s Real World episode? I’ll take the Real World even though Quin’s crew has been an enigma. How can you follow up a classic episode containing two arrests with such a dud? All I did was watch Frankie and Robyn cry for a half-hour. Hardly any shots of Cameran, no bar scenes with surfer girls in trucker caps, and is the hot tub broken at this house? C’mon now. I want to see improvement this week.


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