Paul will miss ACC quarterfinal game

Updated: March 10, 2005, 10:08 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Wake Forest sophomore guard Chris Paul was suspended Monday for one game for throwing a punch at NC State's Julius Hodge that landed below the belt in the first half of Sunday night's game in Raleigh.

Paul wasn't issued a foul on the play, but television replays showed the punch later, prompting the school to suspend Paul. Paul will practice with the team all week and be on the bench for the Demon Deacons' quarterfinal game in the ACC tournament Friday against either NC State or Florida State, which play in a first-round game on Thursday.

The Demon Deacons are the No. 2 seed in the ACC tournament. Paul, who has played in all 61 games in his two-year career, is averaging 14.9 points, 6.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds this season. He has led the Demon Deacons to the doorstep of a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and should be a finalist for every national player of the year award.

Paul hit the winning shot to beat the Wolfpack. Wake Forest officials said Paul was doused with soda among other things after he made the shot. Sources at Wake Forest said Paul was upset during the game when fans were taunting him about his grandfather, who passed away prior to his arrival at Wake Forest.

But Paul said in a statement that, "I would like to apologize to Julius Hodge, the NC State team, Wake Forest fans and my teammates for an incident that I truly regret. Sunday night was emotional for me for many reasons and I let my emotions get the best of me. However, that is no excuse for my actions and I fully accept and agree with my suspension."

Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser and athletic director Ron Wellman also issued statements.

"I have said for two years that I would not trade Chris Paul for any point guard in the country," Prosser said. "This remains the case. The game of basketball is best played in a certain manner. Chris committed a grave error in judgement Sunday evening. He is contrite and aware that his actions did not reflect the best of Wake Forest and our basketball team. This disciplinary action speaks on our intention to hold our players to the highest standards of sportsmanship and proper conduct.

"At this time we turn our attention to improving our team and preparing for the ACC tournament and the NCAA Tournament. I will have no future comment about this decision."

Wellman added: "Chris Paul is an excellent representative of our program and he has been for two years. However, the incident last night is not something that Wake Forest condones, and neither does Chris Paul. It is an incident for which he is extremely sorry. We are proud of Chris and we are convinced that his future behavior will reflect the outstanding individual that he is.

"This is not an easy decision to make because of the type of individual we are dealing with. After consulting with [ACC Commissioner] John Swofford, we believe it is the right thing to do for Chris Paul, Wake Forest and the ACC."

Swofford followed up with a statement, too:

"The Atlantic Coast Conference fully supports the decision of Wake Forest University to suspend Chris Paul for one game following the incident that took place in the NC State game Sunday night. Ron Wellman and Skip Prosser are to be commended for how they have addressed this issue and the league joins Wake Forest in taking a strong stand against this kind of inappropriate behavior."

On the replay, Paul was behind Hodge as the lanky senior was battling for position to rebound a missed 3-pointer by Ilian Evtimov. After Cedric Simmons got the rebound, Paul reached around from Hodge's right side and hit him in the groin. Hodge, the reigning ACC player of the year, crumpled to the court.

With Hodge laying on the ground, his older brother, Steve, walked onto the court to see if Julius was OK -- and to yell toward Wake Forest bench and the referees. After he left the court, Steve Hodge was escorted from the area.

Once Julius Hodge got up, he yelled and gestured toward Paul and the Demon Deacons' sideline on his way to the bench.

Hodge told the Winston-Salem Journal that the two players were battling for a rebound.

"He punched me in the groin and the ref saw it," Hodge told the paper. "I don't understand it. I didn't do anything. It was totally uninstigated. I was just going up for the ball and he just got me.

"You know, I have good-natured talk. I have fun on the court, but I just go out and play ball. That was uncalled for. And the thing is, I actually enjoy watching Wake Forest play. I'm a fan of theirs. I really like Justin Gray, I think he's a good player. But for a guy to do that -- I would never do that. I'm not going to go out and intentionally knock somebody out. Now, when I was younger, I may have retaliated to Steve Blake, but I'm never going to just hit somebody for no reason."

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Andy Katz was used in this report.

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