Coach: The team 'welcomed the challenge'

Updated: February 7, 2004, 8:44 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Suspensions have left St. John's with just eight players, including only two regular starters.

No matter, the depleted Red Storm will play on.

"Honestly, I never thought of getting more bodies on the team," interim coach Kevin Clark said Friday. "We have eight bodies and we will go forward with this team."

Five members of the squad were suspended after a woman told police she was gang raped by St. John's basketball players she met at a strip club outside Pittsburgh at 2:30 a.m. Thursday. The Red Storm lost 71-51 to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.

Sherri Ann Urbanek-Bach, 38, of New York, said she made up the story after the players refused to pay her $1,000 for sex, according to court documents released Friday. She was charged with prostitution, attempted extortion and filing fictitious reports. She was freed Friday after posting $20,000 bond.

No criminal charges were filed against the players, but St. John's disciplined them.

"It is public knowledge that these students in question violated team rules, they were in a location where they shouldn't have been and their actions were inappropriate and out of line with the behavior of a St. John's student," athletic director Dave Wegrzyn said.

Grady Reynolds, a senior, was expelled from the school. Leading scorer Elijah Ingram, a sophomore, and senior Abraham Keita were permanently suspended from the team and both could be expelled.

Freshman Lamont Hamilton and senior Mohamed Diakite were suspended, and freshman Tyler Jones faces discipline that has not been determined, school spokesman Dominic Scianna said.

That leaves only eight players available, including walk-ons, for a home game Sunday against Boston College. The Red Storm struggled all season even when they had a full roster.

"I believe they think they can win, and then this morning they welcomed that challenge," Clark said.

Ingram, Reynolds and Keita started regularly all season. That means sophomore guard Daryll Hill and senior forward Kyle Cuffe are the only starters left.

The Red Storm did not practice Friday, but plan to resume workouts Saturday.

"We'll do the best job we can, if it means practicing five against three, we'll do that," Clark said. "We'll take all the appropriate steps to get it done -- if we need to use some of our managers in practice, we will."

The off-court problems compound one of the worst seasons ever for St. John's (5-14, 0-8 Big East), the fifth-winningest program in college basketball history.

In early December, senior guard Willie Shaw, suspended after being arrested for possession of marijuana along with former St. John's guard Marcus Hatten, was dismissed from the team.

On Dec. 19, six games into his sixth season, Mike Jarvis became the first Big East coach to be fired during a season. Under Clark, the Red Storm tied a school record by losing seven straight games.

With eight games left in the regular season, the Red Storm, last in the Big East, will finish under .500 for the fifth time since 1994-95 and will likely miss the Big East tournament in March at Madison Square Garden, their home court.

"The university is very committed to the balance of the season," Wegrzyn said. "I believe there were inaccurate reports that we were going to hold open tryouts and that is not the case. We have eight remaining student-athletes that will be competing on Sunday and we are focused on the future."

Reynolds, the team's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, was expelled after getting in trouble for the second time in two seasons. He was arrested just days before the 2002-03 season on charges that he pushed a female student against a wall.

In July, Reynolds was ordered to perform community service and undergo anger management counseling to settle the charges, which were to be dismissed after six months if he was not arrested again.

Doubts about Urbanek-Bach's story were raised after one of the players gave investigators his cell phone, which he had used to videotape some of the encounter, police said.

"I think it is important to note that this is a result of poor decision-making," Wegrzyn said. "The proper policies and procedures and past practices that we've always had at St. John's University were followed. I reviewed with Coach Clark and his staff and the administrators that were traveling, what the protocol was and unfortunately, poor decisions led to this incident.

"When you have an incident that results in this type of behavior, we will conduct a review of these processes and protocol to determine if there are improvements that can be made."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press