Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Hits Keep on Comin'!

As if there wasn't enough negative publicity surrounding the University of Minnesota athletic program, the announcement that freshman basketball forward Royce White is a suspect in an on-campus burglary caps a fine 10 days of brushes with the law. Since Halloween night, the Gophers have been involved in three cases of jurisprudence - two involving White and one involving football player Michael Carter.

Add to this the indefinite suspensions currently being served by White and senior forward Devron Bostick and the inability of newcomer Trevor Mbakwe to participate in basketball-related activities pending resolution of his felony assault charge in Miami, and it's exactly the kind of publicity coach Tubby Smith does not want to have as he and his team prepare for Friday's season opener.

White was arrested and charged with assault in the course of a theft of approximately $100 of merchandise from Macy's at the Mall of America. During the incident, White is charged with pushing a security guard to the ground twice, leading to fifth-degree assault charges. Smith suspended White from the team last week in the wake of these charges. Over the weekend, police were notified of a burglary of a laptop computer at the Territorial Hall dorm facility, and White is being investigated as a possible suspect.

The legal process will need to play itself out in the all cases identified in this article and all individuals should be presumed innocent until a judge and/or jury decide otherwise. However, the brushes with the law have put the Gopher sports' department in the crosshairs in the court of public opinion.

For White, the investigation is another episode in a long line of trouble which has followed him since high school. He was booted from De La Salle High School for academic misconduct and subsequently recruited by (I mean, transferred to) the basketball powerhouse which is Hopkins High School. Hopkins has a veritable traveling program of a basketball team and by all accounts White was a model citizen with the Royals in his one season. He held his commitment to the Gophers for this season and highlighted a fine recruiting class by Smith. The key was White, a 6-8 forward with powerful moves to the basket. 

However, for the second time in as many weeks, Smith now has to address questions of whether or not he has control of his team and whether or not he should have recruited White in the first place. The latter part of that statement is ridiculous. After eight seasons of Dan Monson getting hammered locally for not buttoning-up the local kids, to have White walk away to somewhere else because of a checkered past would have set off howls of discontent among basketball supporters. Smith is now in a tough spot of having to defend a player he is likely disgusted with at this moment, but a player whom Smith knows is a key to his team's chances this season.

The Gophers get their season under way Friday night against Tennessee Tech, and by all accounts it should be a fine season in which the Gophers are ranked in the top 20. By having to answer questions about off-the-court activities, the program's season will open under a cloud of controversy.

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