Coach: The team 'welcomed the challenge'

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."