Keita claims he was paid to play

MINEOLA, N.Y. -- A suspended St. John's basketball player
contended Wednesday he got $300 almost every month from a member of
the team staff.

In a statement read to reporters by one of his attorneys,
Abraham Keita also said he is filing a federal civil rights lawsuit
against the university.

"He firmly believes he was the unworthy recipient of racially
disparate disciplinary treatment," attorney Steven Spielvogel

Keita, who is black, attended the news conference but did not
speak. Spielvogel and two colleagues also declined to answer
questions after reading the statement.

St. John's issued a statement Wednesday night saying the school
was surprised by the allegations about the payments and that it
would begin an investigation. St. John's also called the racial
discrimination charge as "simply not true."

Kevin Clark, the interim coach of the Red Storm, and senior
forward Kyle Cuffe disputed the accusations about the payments.

"No. Not at all," Clark said after a 68-54 loss at Boston
College on Wednesday night when asked if he was aware of someone
giving cash to the players.

Cuffe said Keita was being "childish and immature."

"You can't try to bring down other people," Cuffe said. "We
have good character. He's the first one that says we're all
brothers. That's not family. Family doesn't bring its dirty laundry
outside. It's all family. You don't let things out."

Cuffe said he never saw anyone get cash.

"Never. If something like that ever happened, I was never aware
of it," he said. "This is one of the cleanest programs I know. We
all get stipends, that's part of our scholarship. Nothing new.
Nothing more."

Keita was suspended last month after he and several other
players were caught breaking curfew by visiting a strip club near
Pittsburgh. A woman told police she was raped by players she met at
the club, but no criminal charges were filed.

The woman was later charged with prostitution, attempted
extortion and filing fictitious reports.

Keita, a senior center from West Africa, was aware the payments
violated NCAA rules. But his lawyers indicated that because he came
from an impoverished background, he was "extraordinarily
vulnerable and susceptible to accepting NCAA-prohibited cash from
the university."

Spielvogel also contended that Keita took and passed two lie
detector tests supporting his claims. Keita's statement did not
identify his benefactor, but said the payments began during his
first year at St. John's in 1999.

St. John's said in the statement that the matter was never
brought up when the attorneys for Keita and the school met.

"We are therefore very surprised to learn that Mr. Keita's
attorneys made such allegations at their press conference today,"
the school said. "St. John's will conduct an immediate
investigation of the matter and take appropriate action if
necessary, to meet our obligations under NCAA rules."

The program is nearing the end of one of its worst seasons. In
December, senior guard Willie Shaw was dismissed from the team
after he was arrested on marijuana charges with former Red Storm
star Marcus Hatten. On Dec. 19, Mike Jarvis was fired six games
into his sixth season, becoming the first coach in Big East history
to be dismissed during a season.

Clark is not expected to return to the team, which is 6-20.

Spielvogel said his client has contacted the NCAA about his
allegations. An NCAA spokesman had no immediate comment.