Turn Away 

Oh, for the days when Tiger basketball was a delightful winter distraction.

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 announcing his return Friday to the rather pathetic failure of Sean Banks to retain his academic eligibility, formally announced on 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? At a time when we are inundated with news of 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 the alleged assault committed by Hunt have taken U of M basketball off the sports page and onto the front page.

An irony in Hunt's arrest is that it puts the pouting, 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 apparent physical condition of his ex-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). Athletic director R.C. Johnson's hammer didn't come down until after noon last Thursday, when his name was added to the following brief press release from 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? University president Dr. Shirley Raines 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 and too late.

I'd remind those in Hunt's corner who say "allow due process" that universities make their own rules and often have written "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 that school in addition to the laws of state and 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 clothes 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 had he not been a basketball player on scholarship?

Again, the worst part in all this is that Tiger basketball is supposed to be a diversion for the community and provide positive publicity for the university. Hunt's behavior even if he is innocent of the assault, he was inebriated and out late just as he was about to return to the team after rehabbing from surgery is a thorough embarrassment to a program that's taken more hits in the past 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 for embarrassment. The U of M basketball team is a big part of this community. When it's shamed, we're all shamed.

Even after the stirring Marquette win in front of more than 13,000 fans on national television, it's hard not to feel like this is already a lost season, particularly considering the team's subsequent effort last Saturday against TCU. And it's that much harder to even consider the prospect of "March Madness," the quaint alliterative moniker college basketball gives its grand postseason tournament. You want madness? Here in Memphis, we've already got real madness.

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