What does the suspension of four players portend for the remainder of Hofstra's men's basketball season?
Two of the four players arrested Thursday in connection with a string of alleged thefts from university dorm rooms played key roles on the team.
Freshman Jimmy Hall Jr. was the leading rebounder (9.4) and second-leading scorer (12.7). Sophomore guard Shaquille Stokes, who transferred from the University of Hawaii, averaged 10.0 points and was second in assists with 18.
The team already was a work in progress, wedging freshmen alongside transfers and hoping for leadership to develop from a limited number of experienced players. Suspended freshman guards Kentrell Washington and Dallas Anglin provided depth and promise.
Before Thursday, the best-case scenario had the team taking its lumps but perhaps putting together a late run in the Colonial Athletic Association, which will have only seven teams eligible for the postseason tournament and the automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
Progress has been incremental and inconclusive in the Pride's 3-4 start. All the losses were on the road, which concerned coach Mo Cassara, who knows that winning away from home separates the haves from the have-nots.
Winning in any venue now could become problematic. First, there is the initial shock that must be absorbed. "These type of distractions take away from everything and are absolutely exhausting not only for the coaches but the players," said ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg, a former college head coach who was raised in Plainview. "They've got to deal with the repercussions for someone else's bad decisions. The guys who made the bad decisions, they don't have to answer the questions. The people that are left behind are the ones that have to answer the questions."
The main question being, can those who remain pick up the slack? In college basketball, the replacement players come from those already on the bench. "Can they rise?" Greenberg said. "They were given a scholarship for a reason. Everyone wants opportunity. When your number is called, you've got to be ready to go."
It starts Saturday when Southern Methodist University, coached by Larry Brown, visits the Mack Sports Complex for a 4 p.m. game. Cassara's revamped lineup likely will include Bay Shore freshman Jordan Allen replacing Hall and Penn State transfer Taran Buie replacing Stokes. The bench will be extremely short even if Cassara decides to play 6-8 freshman Darren Payen, who has not appeared in a game and was supposed to spend the season as a redshirt. Fresno State transfer Daquan Brown, a 6-10 forward, will be eligible Dec. 22.
Ten players are expected to dress against SMU, but that includes two walk-ons and injured Connecticut transfer Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, who has yet to practice and probably is at least a month away with a knee injury.
Buie and Coombs-McDaniel were expected to be pivotal players this season. Both were suspended for the first two games of the season for violating a team rule. Now six Hofstra players have been disciplined this season.
"A program like Hofstra has eight players you can count on," Greenberg said, "then four or five that you are developing."
Circumstances have dictated that, ready or not, it will become on-the-job training for the remaining players.