Sunday, March 9, 2003

Twelve Villanova players suspended

By Bill Bergstrom
The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA - Villanova suspended 12 basketball players, including leading scorers Gary Buchanan and Ricky Wright, on Saturday for allegedly making unauthorized telephone calls.

The suspensions will leave Villanova with only seven players available for Sunday's regular-season finale against No. 7 Pittsburgh, and the Wildcats will be short-handed for the Big East tournament.

Villanova (15-13, 8-7) announced the suspensions after an internal investigation revealed players had been using a university access code to make unauthorized phone calls over the last several months.

The players suspended Saturday allegedly obtained an athletic department employee's secret telephone access number and used the code to run up long distance charges. The university learned of the breach on Tuesday.

"Obviously, this is a very sad day for our basketball program and our university," coach Jay Wright told a news conference Saturday at Villanova. "They are good guys who made a poor decision."

The university said the players will be suspended for three to eight games, depending on the dollar value of the phone calls. The suspensions will be staggered so the Wildcats will be able to field a team for upcoming games.

Unauthorized phone calls constitute an extra benefit that is prohibited for student-athletes under NCAA rules. For charges of $100 or less, punishment guidelines call only for the player to make restitution. For larger sums, the guidelines mandate suspensions.

Wright said Villanova worked with the NCAA in determining the penalties and didn't expect the players to face additional sanctions.

"I think they thought they were doing what other students were doing, and we make them understand all the time that they are held to a higher standard" as athletes, Wright said.

Buchanan, who averages 15.4 points, and Wright, 12.5, will be suspended for Sunday's game, along with Andreas Bloch, Chris Charles, Jason Fraser, Lou Ruskey and Andrew Sullivan.

Suiting up on Sunday will be Marcus Austin, Mike Claxton, Randy Foye, Tom Grace, Allan Ray, Derrick Snowden and Curtis Sumpter.

The only players not involved in the violations and not affected by the suspensions are Claxton, Grace and Baker Dunleavy, who is red-shirting.

"We understand that errors in judgment may ultimately result in the premature end to some of our student-athletes' careers. However, the NCAA has clear guidelines for withholding athletes based on dollars values of extra benefits," athletics director Vince Nicastro said in a statement.

In 1996, then-Villanova star Kerry Kittles was suspended for the final three games of the season for charging more than $3,000 worth of calls to a university employee's phone card.

Kittles had been the 1995 Big East player of the year and was the leading scorer for the fourth-ranked Wildcats when he was suspended Feb. 22, 1996, on the eve of a nationally televised game against No. 3 Connecticut.

Saturday's suspensions mar what already has been a disappointing season for the Wildcats.

Villanova returned four starters from a team that won 19 games last season, and was loaded with talented newcomers - Foye, Fraser, Ray and Sumpter - who were considered one of the top freshman classes in the nation. But the Wildcats lost eight of 11 heading into Sunday's game.

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