Players' behavior was 'unacceptable'

Updated: February 13, 2004, 12:48 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The president of St. John's blames players for the sordid behavior that led to their suspensions, not interim coach Kevin Clark or his staff.

"Kevin is an outstanding individual. I do not at all see Kevin as being responsible for what transpired here," the Rev. Donald J. Harrington said Saturday. "The procedures were in place for this, and they were circumvented.

"The 20-, 21-, 22-year-old individual, if they decide they want to do something, it's very hard to stop them."

After five members of the team were suspended for breaking curfew to go to a strip club, the Red Storm had only eight players available when they played host to Boston College on Sunday.

Harrington said all the players were accounted for during a bed check at midnight after St. John's lost 71-51 at No. 4 Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. But a 38-year-old 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.

Sherri Ann Urbanek-Bach then 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 quickly disciplined them.

"We did not wait for the police to make a decision because we did not think it was relevant," Harrington said. "The behavior that they admitted to was unacceptable in a St. John's student."

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 lesser discipline that will be determined by Clark.

Ingram reportedly told a relative several days his suspension that he wants to stay at St. John's and be re-instated to the team.

"He realizes he made a mistake," the relative told (New York) Newsday. "He wants to redeem himself at the school."

A hearing to determine Ingram's future at St. John's is scheduled for Tuesday.

Jones went to the strip club but soon returned to the team's hotel and was not involved in the sex, said Harrington, who learned of the police investigation Thursday and felt a wide range of emotions.

"Saddened, troubled, frustrated, but also challenged that we had to step up, fix whatever was broken here and make it right -- and we will do that," he said.

Harrington said the school will take steps in recruiting and other areas to ensure that the basketball program restores its reputation on and off the court, even if that makes it harder to compete.

"For some, the face of St. John's University is the basketball team, that's what they know. We will do everything we can to compete ... and be successful, but we will only do it in the right way. As hard a hit as this was, we will not look the other way," he said.

While Harrington was quick to defend Clark in the wake of the scandals, he has indirectly placed blame on Clark's predecessor, Mike Jarvis, who was fired in mid-December after his relationship with the administration had soured, the New York Daily News reports.

"Cultures develop on a team -- and I'm not talking about ethnic culture or religious culture -- it's the way people interact and what they think is acceptable or not acceptable," Harrington told the Daily News on Saturday.

"A coach shapes the culture of the team," Harrington added. "He is evaluated on not just wins and losses, but on the culture, the academic success and the behavior (of players). We've taken action based on what we've seen taking place and developing."

Ingram and Keita will have a hearing Tuesday to determine whether they can return to school, but they are not expected to play for St. John's again.

Hamilton and Diakite will also have a fact-finding hearing Tuesday to determine the extent of their involvement. They could be reinstated to the team.

Ingram, Reynolds and Keita started regularly all season. That means sophomore guard Daryll Hill and senior forward Kyle Cuffe are the only starters left for the Red Storm, who resumed practice Saturday and have no plans at this point to add more players for the rest of the season.

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 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, 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.

"It's a different world we live in, but we're still teaching the same values we've taught for 134 years," Harrington said.

"The tough thing is you have a handful of individuals that have so negatively impacted the university, and also their teammates. We're not an institution that is shy about expressing what we stand for, and players have to know that and be educated as to why. I know we've tried to do that, but I'm not sure why with this handful it hasn't worked," he said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press