A Seat in the Bleachers: Ubiles turns punishment into something positive

For the third straight season, Edwin Ubiles was benched at the start of a Siena game. Then it looked

I could’ve sworn I’d written this column before.

Oh, right, I had. Last season.

What’s different this time? The only thing I can reckon is that Edwin Ubiles is a senior captain now, whereas on Dec. 6, 2008, the last time Ubiles was benched for being late for something, he was a junior and deferred the leadership stuff to Kenny Hasbrouck and Josh Duell.

The easy temptation is to rip Ubiles for being 10-15 minutes late for some team-related activity on Friday, for which he was benched by head coach Fran McCaffery on Saturday, when Siena played a game against perhaps its stiffest challenger in the MAAC, Niagara.

Captains aren’t supposed to act like that, it’s a lousy example to set for the young players on the team, you’re diminishing your team’s cap­acity to beat a fierce, talented opponent in a really important game. It shouldn’t be that difficult to be on time for stuff, should it?

Et cetera.

But if that’s the only straw in your grasp when trying to find some fatal flaw in this team right now, you will surely drown.

As was the case last year, this year’s benching episode with Ubiles was over a minor transgression, but one that clearly needed to be addressed by the head coach, and was.

Ubiles didn’t steal a laptop, he didn’t get drunk at a party, he didn’t cheat on a test . . . he was a little late for something. Not to get too ration­alization-crazy here, but this sort of thing is nothing new for Ubiles, and it never comes as a shock to McCaffery whenever Ubiles’ head isn’t always 100 percent where it’s supposed to be.

He sat longer this time than he did at the beginning of the UAlbany game last season, coming in at 12:33 with Siena leading Niagara, 18-14.

Then it looked like pretty much the same thing as 2008-09: Ubiles taking a few minutes to slide into the flow of the action, then controlling the action and dictating it at times.

He scored on tricky turnarounds, floaters, baseline reverses, a gorgeous pump-fake, up-and-under. No dunks, like the open-court windmill cranker he threw down at Loyola on Monday, just a diverse, artistic 11-for-19 tapestry of precision and control.

“I didn’t think I had to rush anything,” he said. “I wasn’t loose when I first got in, so I wanted to get a feel for the game. I didn’t want to rush shots to make up time. I’ve always been a player who lets the game come to me, and that’s what I did. [Assistant] coach [Andrew] Francis kept telling me to get a feel for the game, get your legs going, then play ball. Once I got loose and got the adrenaline going, I was able to play the way I like to play.”

“I tell these guys all the time, when you let a really good player get a couple easy ones early, the basket gets bigger and bigger,” Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich said. “I kind of thought that’s what happened today.”

Ubiles was contrite afterward and agreed that McCaffery had to punish him in some way, if for no other reason than to show that there’s no preferential treatment, even for a possible NBA draft pick.

“I told him that was cool, and I respect his decision,” Ubiles said. “He had to do something about it. I just wanted to be ready when I got in. It happened to me before. It was a mistake.”

Yep, Ubiles has been benched for being late for something in each of the last three seasons now, and anyone with even passing knowledge of the program knows what Siena did at the end of the last two seasons.

I’m not willing to call his benching against Niagara an omen, but it sure seems like business as usual on South Pearl Street.

Categories: Sports

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