When the season began, the Florida International University men's basketball team had twelve players. In December Sylbrin Robinson joined the team. And yet at season's end, the Golden Panthers are suiting up only eight warm bodies. With so many troubled players, Shakey Rodriguez is beginning to look like a dime-store Jerry Tarkanian. How did this happen? Let us count the ways....
1. Nate Aaron
Games missed: Eighteen
Reason: Quit the team
Notes: Rodriguez said on January 25 that he had suspended Aaron for violating team rules three days before, and that the freshman guard was leaving FIU to return to his native Jacksonville. In fact Aaron has remained at FIU, under scholarship, but has essentially quit the team and is looking to transfer after this semester. "I just didn't like it here," Aaron says. He notes he had a particular dislike for assistant coach Bernard Wright. "He just doesn't know how to communicate with players," Aaron says. In a bizarre episode, assistant coach Jose Ramos convinced Aaron to return to the injury-plagued squad on February 14. Aaron practiced with the team, then walked in just in time for a players-only meeting in which the team confronted Carlos Arroyo about his selfish play (see next item). Aaron suited up and sat on the bench for the following night's game against South Alabama, but did not play. He did not accompany the team on their subsequent road trip.
2. Carlos Arroyo
Games missed: Eight
Reason: Suspended by coach Shakey Rodriguez for five games after punching team manager Chris McKeown in Hawaii, then was suspended for three more after a university disciplinary hearing
Notes: Punched walk-on forward Richard Weston during a fall practice. Suspended for two games last season for academic and basketball reasons. After his return from suspension this year, he became a major ball-hog, looking for his own shot first, passing to his teammates second. Rodriguez's response was to tell the Miami Herald the team really needed Arroyo's scoring. Teammates called a players-only meeting, the gist of which was to tell Arroyo to pass them the damn ball. According to three sources close to the team, Arroyo stormed out of the meeting immediately, threatening to quit and go back to Puerto Rico. They say Rodriguez calmed Arroyo down and convinced him to stay.
3. Lucas Barnes
Games missed: Twenty
Reasons:Sat out five games because of NCAA transfer rules, five more in a suspension for improperly using another student's meal card, then injured his knee in the January 29 home game against Louisiana Tech. Might be available to play in postseason.
Notes: Charged with battery in a misdemeanor domestic-violence case shortly after withdrawing from the University of Miami in 1998. That case is pending. It might have been closed had he not been charged with kidnapping, battery, and grand theft auto in another domestic violence incident a year later -- after he had enrolled at FIU. He pleaded guilty to the second battery charge, and is undergoing counseling while on probation for a year, but he still awaits trial on the earlier charge.
4. Jabahri Brown
Games missed: Five
Reason: Ankle injury
5. Darius Cook
Games missed: Five
Reason: Suspended for allegedly stealing another student's hubcaps, then becoming belligerent with police
Notes: Cook's choice comments to campus police, including, "I have never seen you motherfuckers around here," and "I'm an FIU student, and there isn't a fucking thing you can do to me," (from the incident report), were specifically mentioned in a memorandum from university vice president Paul Gallagher to Shakey Rodriguez. "It is your responsibility to develop your men and make sure that they understand that theft is unacceptable," he wrote. "His use of language to the officer is unbelievable for a college student addressing the FIU police."
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6. Akin Joseph
Games missed: Twenty-nine
Reason: Redshirt (sitting out his freshman season; will have four years of eligibility remaining next season)
7. Sylbrin Robinson
Games missed: Five
Reason: Academically ineligible until the end of the fall 1999 semester
Notes: In spring 1998 he signed with the University of Florida, but the school ruled him "not admissible" because he hadn't graduated from high school. He went back to school for the classwork, retook the SAT, and re-signed with Florida in November 1998, but his grades and scores still didn't measure up. He subsequently signed with FIU, and tried to enroll in August 1999; his test scores still were too low. During the fall 1999 semester, Bernard Wright was seen driving Robinson (his former player at Miami High) around campus, a possible NCAA rules violation. Despite the fact that coach Tyrone Hart gave an incomplete statement (he didn't write that he had not seen any staff member chauffeuring Robinson), the university closed its investigation into the matter. Meanwhile Robinson seems to have addressed his test-score problem: The NCAA declared him eligible to play in December.
8. Michael Tucker
Games missed: Four
Reason: Knee injury
Notes: Tucker's injury is far worse than that of Barnes; the freshman is definitely done for the year.
9. Richard Weston
Games missed: Twenty-nine
Reason: Sat out first five games as a transfer, kicked off the team in January because of academic difficulties, never played in a game
Notes: Weston's academic problems are not that different from Carlos Arroyo's: His GPA was below 2.0 at the end of the fall 1999 semester, according to records obtained by New Times, and he finished the semester on probation. Even though he had not reached the university's "third strike" of dismissal, as Arroyo had, Rodriguez booted Weston from the team. Add that clear double standard to the fact that Arroyo was not disciplined for punching Weston in the back of the head during practice, and the junior forward, who remains an FIU student, is understandably bitter. He says he still roots for his ex-teammates -- except for Arroyo. "He's a punk," Weston says flatly."