FROM MY SEAT 

FROM MY SEAT

TURN AWAY What a schizophrenic week in University of Memphis sports. From the agony of Jeremy Hunt’s arrest last Wednesday to the ecstasy of DeAngelo Williams’s announcing his return Friday, to the rather pathetic failure of Sean Banks to retain his academic eligibility, formally announced Sunday. Between the various press conferences, you had the embattled men’s basketball team upset Marquette on national television, then -- just two days later on the same home floor -- play a dud of a game in losing to TCU at the buzzer.

You want to know the worst part of this sorry-turned-sordid University of Memphis basketball season? In a day when all of us are distracted by the world’s ills -- from Iraq to Indonesia, from southern California to Philadelphia, Mississippi -- Tiger hoops is supposed to be a happy diversion, regardless of wins or losses. Instead, the misbehavior of Banks and, allegedly, the misdemeanor assault committed by Jeremy Hunt has placed U of M basketball on the front page, above the fold as it were. And an entire community suffers for it.

An irony to Hunt’s arrest last Wednesday is that it puts the pouting, misguided, shiner-sporting Banks and his role as this program’s “bad guy” into sharp perspective. Whatever Banks did to provoke his one-game suspension, whatever he said to provoke a left hook from teammate Arthur Barclay, and however lackadaisical he may have been in the classroom . . . he did not beat, kick, and pin a woman. Hunt deserves his day in court, but by the looks of things (particularly the physical condition of his former girlfriend, Tamika Rogers, when she appeared briefly last Wednesday), the former Craigmont star went Mike Tyson for a few dreadful minutes late on the night of January 9th. It’s hard to fathom a more cowardly act.

What was already a black eye (far more severe than the one Banks received compliments of Barclay) became a flesh wound with the timid reaction to Hunt’s arrest by his coach, athletic director, and university president. During a brief press conference -- before closing practice to the media -- John Calipari actually waffled on whether or not Hunt would play in the next Tiger game (Thursday’s nationally televised win over Marquette). R.C. Johnson’s hammer didn’t come down until after noon last Thursday when his name was added to the following press release by Calipari:

“The University is continuing to look into the matter involving junior guard Jeremy Hunt. While they are gathering more information about this incident, Hunt will not be in uniform for the Tigers.”

If you can call that a hammer.

Worst of all? Dr. Shirley Raines -- the U of M president -- had her name woven into the release, too. As though the Tiger Triumvirate had collectively decided that, yes, allegations of battering a woman preclude a man from suiting up for the home team. Much too little, too late, and all too light.

I’d remind those in Hunt’s corner who scream “This is America! Allow due process!,” that a college or university makes its own rules, establishes it’s own behavioral boundaries, and often has in writing “codes of honor” that have nothing to do with the U.S. Constitution. A student who enrolls at a given school agrees to abide by the laws of the school IN ADDITION TO the laws of our country. (Just ask Sean Banks.)

Not only should Hunt have been suspended from the basketball team (he sat on the Tiger bench Thursday night in the same cl othes he wore at his arraignment), he should have been suspended as a University of Memphis student. I’d ask Dr. Raines, what would the penalty have been for a young man accused of the same act on Rogers had he not been a basketball player on scholarship?

Again, the worst part in all this is that Tiger basketball exists as a diversion for this community, as a means to, for about 30 nights a year, get away from the real-world horrors that we face and wrestle with every last day. Hunt’s behavior -- even if innocent of the beating, he was inebriated and out very late just as he was close to returning to his team after rehabbing from surgery -- is a thorough embarrassment to a program suffering more in the last three months than it did in the first four years of Calipari’s reign. And it has turned what should be a reason to smile into a reason to turn your head . . . in shame. The U of M basketball team is of this community. When it’s shamed, we’re shamed with it.

Even with such a return-to-normalcy win in front of more than 13,000 Tiger fans on national television, it’s hard not to feel like this is already a lost season, particularly considering the team’s effort last Saturday against the Horned Frogs. And it’s that much harder to even consider March Madness. What a quaint alliterative moniker college basketball assumes for its grand postseason. You want madness? Here in Memphis, we’ve got madness.

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