Little evidence of the doom and gloom that hovered over Belknap Campus most of the day. KFC Yum! Center was the place to be for people wanting to put all that behind them.
Senior Night for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team. Tears all around but they were on happy faces, treasuring some great memories and many high points during their collective career. A time to honor seniors Jude Schimmel, Sara Hammond, Bria Smith, Shawnta’ Dyer and Sheronne Vails.
Some 10,488 fans showed up for the occasion, which was also Native American Night, attracting Schimmel fans from distant places, many clad in Schimmel T-shirts and native garb.
A time to celebrate a team that has exceeded all expectations this season, with a 24-4 overall record and 12-3 in their first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The five seniors would be the starting lineup, racing out to a 14-6 lead in the first seven minutes before Myisha Hines-Allen subbed for Vails. They were also all in for the final minutes, until Coach Jeff Walz made a mass substitution to allow the seniors a standing ovation at the 1:14 mark.
Jude Schimmel, with approximately 20 members of family from Oregon in attendance, was clearly enjoying the game, that smile of hers lighting up the arena. Jude would have 11 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals in her final game on Denny Crum Court.
Shawnta Dyer continued her winning ways, scoring her team’s first six points and finishing with 13 points and six rebounds. Two blocks for Sara Hammond to go with four rebounds, three steals and two assists.
UofL led by as many as 26 points midway in the second half, paced by Mariya Moore with her game high 18 points. So much promise for UofL women’s basketball, a little sad for many saying goodbye to these seniors but a good way to end the day.
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The charges delivering the final blow to Chris Jones’ career have finally been made public. Almost as bad as could have been expected, he has been arrested for allegedly raping one woman and sodomizing another female.
Just hours after he had helped his University of Louisville basketball team get past Miami on Saturday. One day after being reinstated to the team, having been suspended for six days.
No excuse for his behavior if the alleged crimes did occur. Growing up in a rough part of Memphis does not rationalize such behavior, no more than being raised in some parts of Louisville. Or Lexington, for that matter.
Jones had it good at the University of Louisville, a dream existence playing for a Hall of Fame coach, with one of the top college basketball programs, and one of the most supportive fan bases in America. A program in which the values of mutual respect and personal integrity are placed at a premium. The desire of the individual second, the values first.
For whatever reason, Jones couldn’t embrace those principles. He could give it lip service, but only fleetingly, when it served him to do so
Some fans sympathized with a player originally suspended for sending a threatening text to a girl friend for trashing his living quarters. What was he supposed to do? How would anyone react to that? Honestly. He didn’t have legal counsel to advise him not to text the perpetrator?
With the latest alleged behavior, however, he totally trashed his reputation and any goodwill that remained. If the charges are true, he violated two young women, he hurt his teammates and coaching staff, embarrassed the program, the school and the fans. All of whom wanted only the best for him.
Chris Jones is on his own now, with only a lawyer to fend for him. That’s a sad place to be.
* * *
Sports Information Director Kenny Klein issued the following statement Thursday afternoon:
“On Feb. 17 while at a team dinner, Coach Rick Pitino was informed of a text message sent by Chris Jones to another individual. Chris was removed from the dinner table, immediately suspended from the team. After the matter was addressed within the university and Chris surrendered his cell phone, he was permitted to return to the team on Feb. 19 with strict internal disciplinary measures attached, among which included a curfew. It was discovered shortly after noon on Feb. 22 that Chris had violated a curfew and there were other accusations, without knowing specifics. At that time, Chris was immediately dismissed from the team.
“While Chris is no longer a member of our team, we understand that the allegations are very serious. While we cannot comment on this ongoing investigation, we certainly expect our student-athletes to uphold certain standards, including their treatment of others. We have great respect for the legal process and our university procedures and we will cooperate as requested with this matter.”
On a positive note, an ongoing source of major distractions to the team has been removed.
The evening was far from over for University of Louisville women’s basketball team following a 78-62 loss to Notre Dame on Monday. They would have the rest of the night to think about it.
There were mechanical problems with the airplane on which they were scheduled to return to Louisville. The charter flight would be cancelled and they would have to scramble to get transportation.
“We got two 15-passenger vans and a mini-van in South Bend, and we rolled in here around 5:30 on Tuesday morning,” said Coach Jeff Walz during his Wednesday afternoon press conference. “We took Tuesday off and will practice today.”
The cancelled flight made a hectic week even more so for the women. They will play Boston College Thursday night and then leave Saturday for the final season game at Virginia. The players also must squeeze in school classes and accompanying homework and tests along the way.
The Cardinals, with their 11-3 conference record, are on the verge of earning a double-bye in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, which begins next Wednesday at Greensboro, N.C. They are one game ahead of Duke and two in front of Syracuse with two games remaining in the regular season.
“The double bye is big,” said Walz. “We have some tired kids. This three-game stretch has been pretty grueling and taxing for them.”
* * *
Thursday night’s game against Boston College has been dubbed “Native American Night” and the coach is anticipating a good crowd to honor graduating seniors Sara Hammond, Shawnta Dyer, Sheronne Vails, Bria Smith and Jude Schimmel.
The coach indicated that some 9,500 seats are have already been sold, and he wants all three levels at the KFC Yum! Center to be needed to honor the seniors at their final home game. The seniors will be featured in the starting lineup.
Much more than the usual game challenges to deal with on a Monday following an emotional weekend for the University of Louisville basketball team. The ghost of a former teammate, who may well have been the true leader, clearly haunting them during the early going.
Whether or not he was less than a popular player, Chris Jones was respected by his teammates as a take charge player, a driving force, confident of his abilities, unafraid of taking risks, fearless when it came to shooting, and he was relentless on defense. Jones’ departure from the team was a major loss, and his teammates knew it.
Over the past 48 hours, all they heard, talked or thought about was Chris Jones. Predictably all the doom and gloom would affect them, the Cardinals managing only 17 points in the first half. They went completely cold over the final 8 minutes of the first half, managing only three points on their last 13 possessions. Not that the low point total is anything unusual this season but this was against Georgia Tech, the 13th-ranked team in Atlantic Coast Conference.
Montrezl Harrell looked lost, Terry Rozier was having certain dunks blocked, Quentin Snider every bit a freshman pushed into a starting role. Chinanu Onuaku standing around, looking lost. Wayne Blackshear with that blank look again. Needing someone to lead them.
Later, rather than sooner, their focus would return to the game at hand, somewhere around the 8:45 mark in the second half, 41-28, with Georgia Tech on the verge of a blowout. The faces of Rick Pitino, his assistant coaches and players reflecting a team in dire distress.
Terry Rozier, fortunately, snapping out of his shooting slump, making a 3-pointer at that pont to cut the lead the 10 points. He would make two more 3-pointers and 11 of his game-leading 22 points during that stretch.
Blackshear would add another 3-pointer and connect on two free throws with four seconds go to seal the 52-51 win for UofL. Blackshear may be realizing he has no option but to become more aggressive if he wants to be remembered kindly for his years at Louisville.
UofL somehow managing to survive the trauma and the worst performance anyone can remember in at least a decade and a half. The win perhaps helping to erase the immediate sting of losing Chris Smith. The fate makers looking kindly on the Cardinals for one more night.
Chris Jones is apparently seeking professional help for dealing with his explosive temper, also known as anger issues. Still no official word from the University of Louisville about what actually went down, and that’s too bad.
Concealing the cause of his surprising dismissal behind a veil of secrecy leaves fans and antagonists no option but to speculate on the reasons. Allowing that to occur only worsens the situation in a community sometimes defined by divided loyalties.
Fans deserve a better explanation than "No Comment" when negative incidents affect the team. They are heavily invested in the program, not just financially, but emotionally and physically affected as well.
People who support UofL basketball, whether it be with their donations, ticket purchases or simply being fans, deserve a better explanation than “No Comment” when negative incidents affect the team. They are heavily invested in the program, not just financially, but emotionally and physically as well.
The curt response probably comes straight from Rick Pitino who, like most coaches, considers the team more his business than that of anyone else. If Pitino were speaking just for himself, the response might be understandable, even if not appropriate. The problem is much bigger than just the team, affecting public perceptions of the university.
The university has a broader responsibility to supporters of the school, showing that it recognizes their concerns and appreciates the loyalty. That doesn’t mean the school has to get into the minute details of what occurred. There are privacy guidelines, which are designed to protect the reputations of individuals, even if these same guidelines may make the perception worse for the people involved.
No fan should be told by a talking head on a sports talk show that it’s none of their business what a student athlete was involved in, as if people shouldn’t care about the conduct of athletes who represent their school.
A simple statement like “Chris Jones has been dismissed from the University of Louisville basketball team because of an off-campus incident. Privacy rules prohibit further details,” would have gone a long way to alleviating the all the conjecture and frustration of UofL fans. Not completely but better than nothing.
Instead, fans are compelled to go to social media, including Twitter and Facebook, message boards and blogs, where they are subjected to rampant speculation and misleading information from their own fan base and deliberate falsehoods and hate from an opposing fan base. All the while, the student’s reputation continues to be hammered.
The dismissal of student athletes at UofL happens. The University needs to have a plan in place to better manage the fallout, and could avail itself of some good public relations pros in town and on campus. These types of incidents seem to be fairly predictable, and the response shouldn’t be complicated. Get the basic facts out, and let the fans move on.
Angry coaches shouldn’t have the last word, the only words in this instance.
The last time I saw Kenny Klein, the University of Louisville sports information director, he was rushing past me Saturday after the Miami game, actually running from the locker room, looking for someone at the KFC Yum! Center. I had never seen him in a hurry. Must have been urgent.
A few minutes ago, here comes an email from Klein saying, “Chris Jones has been dismissed from the University of Louisville men’s basketball team. There will be no comment on the matter.”
Whether the mad dash was related or not is irrelevant. What is important is that Rick Pitino’s off-again and on-again relationship with Chris Jones is over. Jones is history.
Reading between the lines, Pitino has said over the last couple of days that he doesn’t like to suspend players, giving the impression that the final decision may not have been his.
Jones may have taken just enough steps to play one more game but whatever the issue was, it was far from being resolved. Now we wait for the explanation, with the facts trickling out of the social media scrubbing machine over the next couple of days.
An enigmatic player with tons of skill, he was averaging 13.7 points and four rebounds per game. He led the team in assists, with 94, and steals, with 53 for the season. He also led the team in dramatics, a continuing source of concern. It has been apparent to people who follow the team closely that something has been hindering team chemistry all season.
College should be the best time of one’s life, especially for a basketball player in a program like Louisville’s, the most encouraging and positive environment possible. With a Hall of Fame coach guiding him, providing a blueprint for success, offering personalized instructions and advice, Jones was in a very enviable position. Unfortunately, he is giving all that up, trusting his own instincts, left to his own devices.
Chris obviously has significant issues, distracting him on and off the basketball court. Hopefully, he’s able to work them out as he pursues other options on his own. Literally on his own.