Keita claims he was paid to play

Updated: March 4, 2004, 10:48 AM ET
Associated Press

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.

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."

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

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.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press