Jimmy Patsos had a player who was a thunderous scorer, a singular talent who could turn a game by himself with a bevy of drives or jumpers from deep. Every mid-major would love to have a guard like this.
But the headaches. Oh, the headaches. Some of the incidents were trivial, others not so much. Finally, it all became too much.
And Jamal Barney walked away from the Loyola men’s basketball program.
Who did you think we were talking about?
That was 2011. And here it is, seven years later, history repeating itself at Siena with the departure of Patsos’ star guard, Nico Clareth.
“A mutual decision,” the college called it.
Gazette sportswriter Michael Kelly laid out all the particulars in vivid detail Wednesday and in Thursday’s newspaper, notably how Patsos warned Clareth last season he was “blowing it.” Still, Patsos named the enigmatic guard a co-captain going into his junior year.
Although the head coach said the player earned it, the designation was an obvious last-ditch ploy to steer Clareth on a different path. Captains, especially of young teams such as the Saints, must be motivational and calming — and most of all role models.
Clareth, by actions and words, did not fit the job description from Day One.
Patsos has always believed that he can turn any kid around, that the flaws of teens can be corrected by the time these players turn the corner into adulthood. Call that optimism, call that altruism, call it ego. Call it opportunism, if you will, since it affords him the wiggle room to recruit troubled talents that others would pass on.
“One of my flaws is probably caring too much about the players as people, caring about their off-the-court stuff, wanting them to be happy, wanting them to be productive members of society,” Patsos said Wednesday. “That’s a Siena thing and that’s my own personal thing, but that’s not the norm in college basketball. It’s win as many games as you can because that’s the nature of the business, is to win. I don’t believe that. I believe in John Wooden. We’re here to make them better people first, and then better players. That’s the approach we took.”
It’s not always going to work. Sometimes, it will fail, and miserably, and you are left open to questions of whether you are sacrificing the common good of the team and all the other players for one individual.
Like the Jamal Barneys of the world.
Then there is Barney’s Loyola teammate, Brian Rudolph.
Rudolph was a star player for New Bedford (Mass.) High, ticketed for stardom at Providence, when he was arrested his senior year of high school on a charge of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. The charge was plea bargained down, but goodbye, Providence.
Patsos took a chance and recruited him to Baltimore. Rudolph went on to play more games at Loyola than any other Greyhound in history. When the point guard was a senior, Patsos predicted Rudolph, a natural leader, would be a coach.
And this year Rudolph landed his dream job, coaching at his alma mater, in the town where his hoops dreams could have been shattered by a terrible, no good decision.
Don’t ask me to judge Nico Clareth. I don’t know if he is a bad guy or a messed-up guy or something else. I do know the distractions he caused had become untenable.
So should Patsos take a hit for that? Perhaps. Should he have cut the cord earlier? Certainly.
And that whole captaincy thing? Bad idea.
But should he have never tried? Don’t bother asking. Jimmy Patsos is always going to try, even if he fails to save kids with issues more times than not.
And, yes, he remains in touch with Brian Rudolph.