Bonnies prepare to put scarred past behind them

Updated: October 16, 2003, 7:51 PM ET

OLEAN, N.Y. -- As a religious scholar and Franciscan monk, the Rev. Dominic Monti is aware of the importance of symbols and the concept of rebirth.

And as interim president of St. Bonaventure University, Monti understands how symbolic and necessary this weekend is for the Bonnies men's basketball team, which continues to try to put closure on its troubled past.

"In a sense, it's a new beginning," Monti said.

That new beginning starts early Saturday. Billed as "Midnight Mayhem," the team takes the Reilly Center court for the first time since its season ended abruptly last March. The players refused to play their final two games amid a player eligibility scandal and the ensuing Atlantic-10 Conference sanctions that stripped the team of its league victories and barred it from postseason play.

The significance of this first practice session is not lost on Monti, the person asked to restore order and invoke much-needed change to a program that, as a school investigation discovered, lacked institutional control.

"Let's face it, we ended on a very bad note with what was seen as a loss of, quote, team spirit," Monti said. "It's important to say, 'That was then, this is now."

The anticipation is even higher for a school and community intent on forgiving and forgetting.

"I'm very refreshed, mentally, physically," senior point guard Marques Green said. "Marching forward. That's what it's about right there."

And the feeling extends to the citizens of Olean, a tight-knit community that regards the Bonnies as their own.

"It's a rebirth," said John Firkel, considered one of the Bonnies' biggest fans. "I've been waiting all summer for this."

Much has changed in the last seven months.

Anthony Solomon, a former Notre Dame assistant, was hired to replace head coach Jan van Breda Kolff, who was dismissed in April and is now an assistant with the NBA's New Orleans Hornets.

Also gone are school president Robert Wickenheiser and athletic director Gothard Lane, who both resigned for their roles in allowing the transfer of forward Jamil Terrell, the player who was eventually ruled ineligible for failing to meet NCAA junior college transfer guidelines.

The new president is expected to be in place by June and a new athletic director by January.

All that remains is word from the NCAA, which is expected to finish reviewing the report of St. Bonaventure's investigation and determine whether further sanctions are necessary by early December.

In submitting its report, the school proposed self-imposed penalties, including a temporary reduction in scholarships and a reduction in the number of recruiting visits potential prospects can make.

Solomon can't influence the NCAA's decision, nor can he change the past. And he takes over a patchwork team that lost two returning players, including Mike Gansey, last season's second-leading scorer, and two recruits, who transferred because of the scandal.

"Are there some scars with some individuals? I can't say no to that," Solomon said. "Life goes on. We have to get back up."

It's not entirely about wins and losses, Solomon added. It's also about restoring respect.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index