LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino dropped some big news, quickly, Thursday when he announced that junior forward Chane Behanan has been suspended indefinitely by the university for a violation of team and university policy.
Behanan will not practice with the team and has been moved out of Billy Minardi Hall, the residence for Cardinals basketball players. Pitino said Behanan has been given conditions for a return, but in the less-than one week's time since he received the sanction, he has already violated those conditions once.
Some thoughts, in no particular order:
1). Behanan has had multiple chances, perhaps too many. He was suspended at the outset of last season and kept away from the media for the first semester. Even in Thursday's announcement, Pitino said, "It's multiple things. Don't ask what it is, because we're not going to tell you anyway. It's multiple things."
2). That being said, there seems to have been a sudden change. Behanan was part of U of L's media day just this past Saturday. He was in the team pictures. He spoke with the media, and talked about his future in the program. He was announced as a first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection. Pitino said that he and athletic director Tom Jurich consulted and decided on this course of action. The invocation of a university action implies that there could be other ramifications. U of L's registrar confirmed Thursday that Behanan remains in school and is enrolled full time. Perhaps, as Pitino intimated, there was a kind of "last straw" after an accumulation of transgressions. Whatever the case, the last time we saw Behanan, he was still a part of the team in good standing, and that was only five days ago. The rumor mill will work overtime. Behanan, surely, has provided plenty of fodder for it. What we actually know, however, continues to be a much smaller slice.
3). The timing of Pitino's announcement is curious. He didn't have to announce anything Thursday. Not only is it the eve of the biggest football game of the season, but it comes just two days before a public scrimmage in which Behanan's absence would be naturally noticed. Either the staff wanted to get out in front of that so that attention could turn to the team on Saturday, or perhaps they felt the need to get out ahead of other stories should they surface. My rough understanding of the timeline is that something happened between media day Saturday and early this week that prompted Pitino and Jurich to change Behanan's status. But that's just conjecture. So is this, and it should be understood as my opinion, and nothing more: Pitino's action of making a Thursday announcement was one of a coach who was fed up, and whose patience has been worn thin, if not out.
4). The question of Behanan's return is a reasonable one. I don't have much faith in first impressions. Pitino often takes hard lines with players with a purpose in mind -- to jolt them back into right behavior. So far, it can be assumed this hasn't worked with Behanan. Pitino was disappointed that he didn't have a productive summer before last season. He'd hoped Behanan had turned a corner by battling back to be a major factor in the Final Four in Atlanta. He's expressed doubts about other players, only to bring them back. But on Thursday, he wasn't inclined to be optimistic. "It is possible. It's not probable," he said of Behanan's return. Talking about himself and Jurich, Pitino said, "We've both agreed that Chane should put basketball aside. I don't have a great deal of confidence going forward that he's going to do the things that we've asked him to do." Everyone of course, will have an opinion. Friends, family, fans, pundits, rivals, even columnists. Absolutely none of them matter. This one is in the hands of Behanan and Pitino.
5). What? You're asking for a call? You want an actual date? Okay, put me down for Dec. 17 against Missouri State in the KFC Yum! Center.
6). It's hard to fathom, sometimes, how much some of these players are willing to risk. Behanan grew up in a desperate situation. A brother arrested on drug charges. A single mother. He grew up in a rough Cincinnati neighborhood. He learned basketball on an asphalt court, no baskets, no nets, but crates hanging on poles. When the family's home burned to the ground, his grandmother knew she couldn't handle them all, and persuaded family in Bowling Green to take him in. While he was playing his senior year of high school there, one of his close friends, Deonte Armstead, was shot and killed in a robbery. "I really don't think I'd be here today if I'd stayed in Cincinnati," Behanan told WDRB's Pat Doney in a 2012 interview. He also told Doney this, and I want you to pay attention to these words: "There were times I wanted to quit basketball, but I just know I couldn't. I think I'm the last person left in my family who can make something happen. If it ain't me, then it's nobody." Now, that's a lot of pressure for a young guy to carry around, it's true. But it also should be a lot of motivation. Apparently, it hasn't been enough.
6). At the end of last season, there was a rising chorus to play Montrezl Harrell in Behanan's place. Pitino did not yield to that temptation, though in situations like the Big East Tournament championship game, Behanan himself made the decision. "Leave him in," he told the coach, while Harrell was having a career game. Pitino wanted to have both on the court at the end of games this season, but was going to have to stagger their playing time so that they weren't in foul difficulty at the same time. Pitino said Thursday that his team can absorb the loss and still be a Top 5 team in the nation. He'll have Wayne Blackshear play more at the power forward spot, which actually will free up the small forward spot for Luke Hancock. Harrell will be on the court more. And Pitino will lean more on redshirt freshman Mangok Mathiang and senior Stephan Van Treese, particularly for rebounding where Van Treese is concerned. But there's no scenario in which playing without Behanan is better than playing with him. He's played for two seasons, and been to two Final Fours, and he has been an important part of those runs. U of L has been at his best when Behanan has been his best the past two seasons. The Cardinals will move on without him if they have to. But to say he won't be missed is to understate what he's able to accomplish, especially rebounding, when he's at the top of his game. He struggled for much of last season, but he showed up in the Final Four, and U of L has an NCAA championship banner to show for it. When that banner goes up at the KFC Yum! Center, Behanan won't be in uniform to see it.
7). In his recent book, "The One-Day Contract," Pitino talked about suspending Behanan and Kevin Ware last season. He said he told both players, "If you work hard and get back to where we know you can get, all anyone will remember is how you finished, not what happened with your suspensions." That's no less the case for Behanan now, but each time disciplinary issues crop up, they get a little bit tougher to overcome. And the decision of Pitino to remove Behanan from the rest of the team sends a signal that this is a clear break. "We'll have interaction with him. We'll keep him in shape, he'll lift weights," Pitino said. "He just won't be part of the team." One more passage from Pitino's book, on Behanan, "We're hoping Chane won't put off becoming the player he is capable of being any longer."
8). National reaction. Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde called the loss of Behanan "a major blow." Jeff Goodman asked the question, "How will Louisville replace Behanan?" Then answered, "I'm not sure they can." Former Cardinals teammate Peyton Siva, who told Goodman for an ESPN piece, "There's no way we win the national title (last season) without him," took to Twitter to say, "My boy will be good. Just win it all again."
9). Excerpts from Pitino's comments about Behanan Thursday:
"I was never concerned about Chane the basketball player. He's extremely respectful, a good guy, a good teammate and he's an excellent basketball player. But he just has a very difficult time understanding life's values, and (the) significance of life's values, and we're going to try to help him along. We're more interested in Chane the man right now than in Chane the basketball player. We want to see him prosper as a person as much as he's been prospering as a basketball player.
"Young people today have a very difficult time from a discipline standpoint. Chane wouldn't hurt a fly, he really wouldn't, so it's nothing of a violent nature. Its just very difficult for Chane to follow rules. We don't have a whole lot of rules, but the ones we do have, he needs to follow, and he's had a difficult time with those."
"This is a difficult one, because the kid is a lovable young man. He's a lovable guy. But if we don't do something now, he has no chance to prosper later on in life, and we're just using him for his basketball skills. So it starts small, and as he gets bigger in reputation it mushrooms. And he takes more liberties, so to speak. This is not about basketball, this is about Chane Behanan becoming the person I know he can become."
"It's just a culmination of a lot of different things. It's a lot of little things when you add them up they're pretty big. We have very lofty goals. When you're going for a third straight Final Four, and your team has bought in 100 percent to try and reach those goals and one person is not buying in, it doesn't work. He's not only the most important -- he's letting his team down. It's very easy to let yourself down and you can point your finger in the mirror and you're hurting one person. But when you're hurting 12 other guys, that's when it's really disappointing. And that's what Chane is doing with his behavior."
On how the team reacted: "They just hope he'll get his act together and get back on the team. We all love Chane, top to bottom. We all think he's a great guy. . . . But he has to change his behavioral patterns."