University of Akron basketball coach Keith Dambrot has said the Zips go as Alex Abreu goes.
Let’s hope that applied only on the court because otherwise they could be headed down a path of selfishness that could destroy what their team, their coach and their university have been striving to build.
When Abreu was arrested Thursday on marijuana-trafficking charges and indefinitely suspended, what looks like a shockingly poor decision by the junior point guard could torpedo the Zips’ goal of not just reaching the NCAA Tournament, but winning games when they got there.
This wasn’t just the bad choice of putting a match to a blunt, as some Zips probably have done before. According to Akron police, Abreu and another man accepted the delivery of a package containing 5 pounds of marijuana from undercover officers.
On Friday, Abreu pleaded not guilty.
Dambrot has remained loyal to players who have gotten in trouble. Brett McKnight was suspended three times during his UA career for violations of university policy, missing eight games and 30 preseason days during a two-season span from 2009-11. Each time, Dambrot and the Zips welcomed McKnight back.
I’m not sure I would want Abreu back. The point guard is supposed to be the team’s leader, its heart and soul, the player his coach trusts most.
“Alex is like a son to me,” Dambrot told the Beacon Journal after a Nov. 15 loss to Oklahoma State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament.
Dambrot won’t disown his son. Especially since Dambrot’s life has been all about second chances since a remark that some considered racially tinged at Central Michigan in the early 1990s nearly cost him his career.
“I felt like my son got arrested, really,” Dambrot said after UA lost 68-64 to Kent State on Friday night at Rhodes Arena. “It’s a heartbreaking thing. I love that kid, I’m going to stick behind him. It’s my obligation to stick behind him and get him through his difficult times. Nobody knows better than me that people make mistakes. So if anybody can forgive him, it’s going to be me.”
In the wake of the turmoil, the Zips played poorly in the first half of their regular-season finale in front of a sellout crowd of 5,699 and an ESPN2 audience. But Dambrot lauded their competitiveness, especially that of junior Demetrius Treadwell, even though some were disappointed in Abreu.
“We put a lot of time and effort into this thing, so it’s a hard pill to swallow for all of us,” Dambrot said. “I did tell our guys, ‘We’ve got to give him more love than we’ve ever given anybody in our life because that’s what you do to a brother who is in trouble.’ We’re not going to try to embarrass him. We’re going to be there for him. That’s why people come to Akron because that’s what we’ve built the program on. It’s easy to be nice to people when things are going well. But it’s hard when you’re down and out.”
As for what happens next with Abreu, Dambrot knows it’s not totally up to him.
Code of conduct
Denine Rocco, UA’s associate vice president and dean of students, would not address specifics regarding Abreu in a telephone interview Friday. Based on past situations and the fact that a student’s arrest is a matter of public record, there is a strong possibility that UA will receive a referral on Abreu’s apparent student code violation, sending it into UA’s conduct process.
That’s a sticky web from which to untangle.
That’s what happened with Quincy Diggs, named sixth man of the year by the Mid-American Conference last season. In early October, Diggs was suspended through the 2013 spring semester for violating UA’s code of student conduct. Diggs was also prohibited from taking classes at a UA satellite campus.
The code of conduct, a 31-page document on UA’s website, includes “commission of any felony or misdemeanor under applicable federal, state or municipal law.”
Those entering the UA conduct process and suspended are barred from campus and not allowed to participate in any activities, Rocco said. Dambrot could become an advocate for Abreu in front of the university hearing board and speak on his behalf. (Attorneys are not allowed to speak at that hearing.)
The conduct process could take days or weeks. The university keeps suspensions confidential.
Abreu’s alleged transgression, unconscionable enough, is shocking because of its timing. Next week is the Mid-American Conference Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena. Winning the regular-season title, the Zips earned a bye into Friday’s semifinals and are two victories away from an automatic NCAA bid.
A tournament crown was not assured for UA, even with its regular-season sweep of 2012 NCAA Sweet 16 darling Ohio University. Without Abreu, it would take a supreme effort by the Zips for UA to beat Ohio and star senior point guard D.J. Cooper. Kent State has won eight of its past 10 games and cannot be overlooked.
Just as stunning is the fact that Abreu made himself the poster boy for the Zips’ big dreams. He was the first to voice them after a Feb. 2 home victory over Ohio.
“For me, all I think is national championship,” Abreu said. “It might sound crazy to a lot of people, but I don’t think we have anything to envy of anybody in the country. There’s nothing we really lack other than confidence.”
During Abreu’s alleged illegal acts, the national championship apparently slipped his mind.
In recent years, there might not have been a sports arrest with more consequences for a local team than Abreu’s. Ohio State starting quarterback Steve Bellisari was picked up on DUI charges in the wee hours of a Friday morning before the Illinois game in 2001. But the Buckeyes weren’t on the cusp of the national championship that season. They were 6-3, ranked No. 25, and finished 7-5. Maurice Clarett’s aggravated robbery charges, 2006 arrest with a cache of weapons and bottle of Grey Goose at his side, and prison sentence were more egregious, but Clarett had been cut by the Denver Broncos by then.
Much at stake
There is much at stake for the Zips this month. An NCAA berth, and a victory or two, would boost the program toward Dambrot’s mid-major models like VCU, Butler and Gonzaga.
As practice ended Thursday, Dambrot gathered his players, which included Abreu, in a huddle underneath the basket. His message wasn’t easily heard from midcourt, but the NCAA Tournament was mentioned.
That chance seemed like a fingertip’s touch away. At least it did before Abreu left the gym.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.