Pinkston’s altercation affects more than player


In 1987, Sports Illustrated ran a piece about a Villanova basketball player. Gary McLain, star point guard of Rollie Massimino’s legendary 1985 NCAA Championship team, poured his life out in a first-person account that spanned 18 pages of the magazine.

Only about a paragraph was devoted to upsetting Georgetown in arguably the greatest college basketball game ever played, however; the rest was about his wild time at Villanova, where his celebrity status as a Wildcat earned him both a championship ring and a severe drug addiction.

From the moment he moved into his room in the Quad in Sullivan Hall freshman year, everything Villanova could offer was at McLain’s fingertips. That included the freshest sneakers, the finest girls and all the cocaine he could possibly want.

That’s quite a bit for an 18-year-old to handle: just a kid at home in New York one day and the king of Villanova the next. But it’s the challenge that faces the top recruits at Division I programs, and sometimes it gets them into trouble.

McLain’s case was extreme, and the drug problem he developed at school caused him to blow (literally) his chance to play professional basketball away.

Today’s players face the same temptations, however, and sometimes they succumb. Reggie Redding missed the first half of his senior season last year for marijuana possession. This season, it’s a freshman that has gone down.

On Nov. 6, a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday, forward JayVaughn Pinkston got into an altercation at a house party. Rumors claim that during a “romantic encounter” with a girl at the party, Pinkston was locked inside a room as a prank. He came out throwing punches and sent a pair of fraternity brothers to the hospital.

Of course, the University has not confirmed these types of details. But on Monday, exactly one month after the party, Villanova finally sent out a statement of its decision. Pinkston, charged with two counts of assault, will be suspended for the remainder of the school year. No classes and no basketball.

This hurts.

It hurts Pinkston, who now has an enormous blemish on his record at Villanova prior to playing a single basketball game. It hurts the kids who got clocked — the New York Daily News reported that one received a broken nose, the other a concussion. And it also hurts the Wildcats.

Villanova’s squad now finds itself a man down, and the current roster contains only eight players that can be expected to see significant playing time. Last year the Wildcats found success in bringing energy off the bench by playing ten.

Furthermore, Pinkston leaves a hole at the forward position where guard-heavy Villanova can least afford one. The 6’7″, 260-pounder was expected to contribute immediately alongside Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou, adding a depth to the frontcourt that would have become increasingly important as the season wears on.

Coach Jay Wright will figure out a way to cope with the loss; Villanova has been this guard-heavy in the past and made it work. The team looks pretty good so far, although it’s hard to quantify the loss of a player who has yet to play a game, and his size will likely be missed even more once the always-physical Big East play begins. But what will end up being most important is how Pinkston responds in the future.

The loss of a top recruit for a college program is something like a botched draft pick for a professional franchise. Wasting a top pick (or in this case, a scholarship) might not completely destroy your team, but drafting Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan certainly didn’t win the Portland Trail Blazers any championships. The Wildcats had to pass on other guys to sign Pinkston, and now he’s unable to show his worth.

“I am sorry,” Pinkston said of the incident. “This situation is my responsibility and I have learned from it. I am going to work extremely hard so that I can return to the Villanova family in June.”

Hopefully that’s true and he delivers on his promise. According to the statement released by Villanova on Monday, Pinkston will regain his eligibility as a student and athlete in June 2011. He can redshirt this year and come back with a full four years of eligibility. If he contributes during that time the way he was supposed to this year, his 2010 screw-up will be all but forgotten.

People can learn their lessons and change for the better. Gary McLain did – he checked into rehab in the summer of 1986 and got clean. Now a motivational speaker, his website flashes a quote across its homepage: “Just because I made some mistakes, you didn’t think I was going to come back stronger?”

Your turn, Mr. Pinkston.