(Following is the opinion of Ray Curren)
As part of being an amateur psychologist (and everyone that works in education is at least an amateur psychologist), I know that people’s opinions of a situation can be easily altered by a subtle changing of a word here or there.
For instance, as studies have shown, if someone sees a car crash and that is asked how fast the cars were going when they “smashed” into each other, you get a much higher number than if you replace “smashed” with “bumped” or “contacted” (you also may have learned this in law school).
And so, when I heard that Iona junior A.J. English “threw” and “tossed” and “whipped” an official at the end of the Iona-Saint Peter’s contest last Saturday, I was taken aback. For the most part, the English I’ve covered over last three seasons has been more subdued than excitable. And he’s had a remarkable junior season, ranking in the top 20 nationally in both scoring and assists, his range and composure obviously a massive factor in Iona being at the top of the MAAC as we head down the homestretch.
A quick check of the stats shows that he does have four career technical fouls, three last season. He did not officially get one last Saturday in a game that got “chippy” if you want to use another loaded word. There were offsetting technicals, David Laury got caught yapping at Desi Washington and was put on the bench after getting a technical of his own. Then, Iona was able to survive against Saint Peter’s in overtime in what has been a frustrating season for the Peacocks, injuries and just an inability to close games out keeping them much closer to the bottom of the MAAC standings than most thought they’d be, least of all themselves.
At the final horn, Washington and English ended up face-to-face and both got some words off before being separated. At that point, a well-meaning official grabs English to get him out of there. As they get to half-court, English moves quickly to his right and turns, sending the official (Newton’s laws of motion and all) tumbling. Unfortunately for English, his action also happened to be closer than anyone else to the camera (held by our own Vincent Simone) so he was front and center in this play.
Both coaches and staffs did a great job keeping everything from escalating further, especially in the tight confines of the Hynes Center where the crowd could have easily become a factor.
This is not to say English is absolved of all culpability here. He clearly jawed at Washington and then wanted to rejoin the fray twice before it was over.
Obviously respecting officials is paramount in any athletics, including college, but I have a hard time seeing the “toss” or “throw” that should have gotten English a lengthy suspension, particularly for a kid that has no prior incidents to his name.
At some point on Sunday, things went off the rails a bit. MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor said that sanctions would be handed down by the schools, which is a great system to have in theory, but opens everything up to inconsistencies, especially in a situation like this. With Iona slated to play Fairfield on Monday, time was of the essence, but fate intervened in the form of a snowstorm and that game was postponed.
Still, it took until Friday for anyone to say anything, with the final decision being a one-game suspension for English and Washington. Ironically, both teams won the respective games their players were suspended for, Saint Peter’s beating Fairfield and Iona topping Siena.
Iona issued this statement from Tim Cluess: “English will not play in tonight’s contest vs. Siena as a result of his involvement in the initiation of an unsportsmanlike incident in the Gaels overtime win over Saint Peter’s last Saturday.”
Sunday, Iona didn’t want to comment on the situation except to say that they’ve moved on. English scored only six points Sunday, all in the first five minutes, as he spent most the day passing the ball to Schadrac Casimir for 11 assists (Casimir scored 33 on nine three-pointers).
As the Gaels (18-6, 11-2) head down what proves to be a difficult stretch – Cluess said that Isaiah Williams could return as early as Feb. 20 for the return Marist game, but more likely is the home finale against Manhattan a week later, provided he has no complications between now and then. Hopefully English’s play and eye-popping numbers will get more recognition than a couple of seconds of trash talk and allegedly “throwing” a referee.
Because he really didn’t. Nor did he smash into him, either.