Cincinnati Men's Basketball Press Conference - 12/12

Dec. 12, 2011

Complete archived Press Conference

Press Conference Transcript:

Mick Cronin
Head Coach

Opening Statement:
“First of all these guys are here to apologize, starting on the end with Octavius Ellis for those of you who do not know, Ge’Lawn Guyn, Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj on the end. You will hear from them in a little bit. The young guys are going to apologize, let them get out of here, and then the older guys are going to take questions from you guys. Athletic Director Whit Babcock is going to join us after these guys leave, so he has room to sit up here. I’m sure you guys have questions for him and he has things to say as well.
“We are all embarrassed we are even in this position. I think we all know what went on the other night took away from a good Xavier win. I’m a big believer in ‘To the victor goes the spoil.’ We won that game last year and we got to enjoy it. They won the game, instead of being able to enjoy their victory; this is what’s going on in the aftermath which is really unfortunate. With that being said, before I let these guys talk, I think it is important to note that our guys, this not new for them talking about what is important, what is important in our program, what we try to do on a daily basis. You will see, when you ask them, what it is all about. “Nobody is sitting up here with anything written, there have been no prepared statements, they have been asked to tell how they feel when they talk and that is how I talk. I can tell you how I feel, to our university, to our alumni, to our fans, everybody involved that we let down; we are sorry. We are here to make it part of our past, move on to our future. We have a lot of guys that are in the locker room right now that showed unbelievable character and controlled their emotion in a very tough time. Nobody is talking about what they did and how they should be commended for what they did. I am very proud of those guys and I need to get those guys ready to play Wednesday night. Out of loyalty to them, we have a big game Wednesday and we have to get ready for it so we have to make this part of our past. “A lot has been talked about the things I said after the game. To make it very clear, I fully support the university’s decision on all the suspensions. That being said, what I said about all our players, out of my frustration on the whole event, no one should be able to represent the university, in my opinion any university, and be on scholarship if they don’t understand that it is a privilege, it is a blessing. Not just for my team, for Xavier’s team and for all student athletes across the country. In my locker room no one will take the floor again representing the University of Cincinnati if I don’t believe that they understand that. They will believe that. They will believe that it is a privilege and if we failed at all as coaches, as administrators and part of college athletics, it is that our kids sometimes maybe are not getting that message enough. That is where I have been beating myself up even though the guys will tell you that we talk about it every day.



“At the end of the day, we offer no excuses. We are not here to talk about the other school, the other suspensions; it is not of interest to us. We represent the University of Cincinnati with a lot of pride, we believe in it, we love it, and we are here to take responsibility for our actions. These guys in particular, make it part of our past and focus on the future and making it and somehow turning this into a positive, as Yancy and I have talked about, finding out what the rules are, talking to local high school teams and everything that we can possibly do in the community to try to set a better example. With that said, I think we are going to start here with the freshman, Octavius, we are probably going to talk to you guys first.”

Octavius Ellis
Freshman Forward
“I would like to take this time right now to apologize to the fans and to my coaching staff for what happened at the game last Saturday versus Xavier. My actions were inappropriate. I should have just done the right thing and grabbed my teammate instead of coming off the bench throwing the first punch. If I would have done that, none of this would have happened.”


Freshman Guard
“I would also like to apologize for my actions against Xavier. I feel like it could have been handled differently. I feel like I let the university down, let the community down and let my teammates down. I take full responsibility for what I did and I would just like to say sorry.”

Cheikh Mbodj
Junior Center
“I would like to say sorry for everything that happened. I really regret that this whole thing happened. I feel really embarrassed now. I want to say sorry to the Cincinnati community, the school, the fans, the coaches and my teammates. This is not a way to represent the school and I really want to apologize for my actions. I am sorry.”

Yancy Gates
Senior Forward
“I want to apologize, really, to the whole city of Cincinnati. I am homegrown, I am from here. A lot of people expect me to not only represent the University of Cincinnati but everybody; my family, kids back in Madisonville running around, from downtown. Everywhere I go a lot of the kids look at me and say, ‘Look, there goes Yancy Gates.’ The actions that I displayed are not what I am about, it is not what the University of Cincinnati is about and it is not what my family is about. It has been a hard couple of days dealing with it, but those were my actions and I have to deal with what is going on now.
“I want to thank the University of Cincinnati, the athletic director and Coach Cronin because it could have been over for me. I realized that, once we got in the locker room, I was upset. A lot of people were trying to talk, see what was going on, because my actions were not what I am about as a person, as an athlete and I am sorry for the embarrassment I put on myself, the coaching staff, the University of Cincinnati and the city of Cincinnati. That is not what we are about and now people all over the country are just now hearing about Cincinnati, which is all they know us for. That is embarrassing. I just want to try to move forward and do whatever I can to make up for it. I am sorry for my actions.”

Director of Athletics
“I wasn’t originally supposed to be up here. Coach Cronin wanted to take this opportunity, as did the players, to apologize. After thinking on it, I am going to be up here with these guys and support them. It certainly doesn’t mean that I condone in any way, shape or form what they did and they know that; I met with them individually. I believe, in my heart, in forgiveness. They know they are fortunate to have a second chance. They know they are fortunate to represent Cincinnati and I wanted to be here to support them.
“None of us have any notes or scripts and I think it is good to speak from the heart. If there is another comment I want to make, in the five or six weeks I have been here, the thing that I have been struck by is the pride and the love that people have for this school. I want to apologize to the whole Bearcat family. That is a term that I use, ‘We are in it all together.’ Whether that is students or faculty and staff, trustees, the president, our fans, people nationally, we let them down.
“I know that there are people out there that are angry and hurt and embarrassed and I simply want to, as director of athletics, apologize to them. I also told these players and coaches that I hold them to a much higher standard than they acted in late on Saturday during the game. We will move forward, but that doesn’t mean that we will forget. We will move forward and work diligently to regain that trust and respect and again I just want to apologize to the Bearcat family and assure you that we do not take it lightly and we want to earn their respect and trust back.”

Did you have concerns on possibly being dismissed from team?
Gates:“I was just worried about the rest of my teammates in the locker room. If I were to be dismissed for the season, it is not only hurting me, but as a senior and one of the leaders on the team, that would hurt the other guys in the locker room. They rely on me to be in practice every day and be out there in the game to do my job which is to help the team try to win. I was a little scared that it might all be over, that it might have been my last game in a Cincinnati jersey. The punishment I got, I got and I will have to deal with it and try to move on.”

Coach Cronin said you won’t take the court until you believe and understand the privilege of going to UC. How will you go about proving that?
“I knew that when I committed here that it was a privilege to come here. A lot of kids that I played in the park with when I was young would say, ‘I’m going to play for UC,’ watching Kenyon Martin and them. When I actually got the opportunity, I knew that I had the privilege and opportunity of a lifetime that a lot of kids from Madisonville, from Over the Rhine and Bond Hill didn’t get. I understand that. Coach Cronin knows that I know that. I talk to Coach Cronin a lot. I talked to him since this happened. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing and try to show that I’m a better person than what I showed on Saturday.”

Do you think six games is a fair punishment? What was the environment like on the court that caused the incident to happen?
Gates: “I don’t know about the environment. Only I can take responsibility for my actions, no matter what was going on. I’m one of the older guys on the team. I’ve been here the longest. I should’ve grabbed the freshmen instead of going out there and throwing punches.
“As far as my suspension goes, I don’t know if it’s fair. Some people are going to say it’s fair. Some people are going to say it’s unfair. That’ not up to me to decide. All I can do is take the punishment that I get, try to accept it and move on.”

What was your reaction after watching the video replay of the skirmish?
Gates:“It was bad. That’s all I kept thinking, talking to my mom, my dad. It’s just bad. It looked bad, it was. That whole situation was bad. That’s the only thing that kept going through my mind – that it might be over; a lot of people are going to want me done (playing), never to wear the jersey again. I just had to sit back and wait to hear what was going to happen. I watched it. They kept showing it, kept showing it and that made it worse and worse and worse, especially me, because I was the highlighted guy. It’s just a bad situation.”

What was the conversation like with your parents?
Gates:“They’re my parents. They’re just going to make sure, at first, that I was okay. Second, saying that what I did wasn’t right. My parents didn’t raise me like that. It was just me and my parents. The same thing anybody would do for their kid, call and make sure they’re okay.”

What will you do during the suspension that can restore some good feeling and faith with the University of Cincinnati and your teammates?
Gates:“With my teammates, show up every day at practice and practice just as hard as if I was getting ready for the game. My teammates, they know we’re close. With the university, I’ll do whatever, it doesn’t matter, just whatever because I’m just not that type of person. A lot of people have been calling me a thug or a gangster.”

Mbodj:“I think the best thing we can do right now is to just learn from this and move on. This is not who we are. We’re not violent. We’re not violent people. We’ve just got to show everybody the type of people we really are.”

Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph T. Deters is reviewing the video and considering filing charges. Do you think that would be appropriate and what are your thoughts on being charged?
Cronin:“I’ll answer that. That’s why he was elected. That’s his job and I’m sure he’ll do his job. Anything we’re asked to do, we’ll fully comply with.”

Do you think it’s appropriate for charges to be made?
Cronin:“To be honest with you, we just were told that before we walked into the door. I have full faith in, not only Joe Deters, but (Hamilton Country Sheriff) Simon Leis – he’ in that department as well. Those guys are the best. So whatever they feel they need to do, we fully understand that.”

Can you talk about the trash talking and the on-the-court atmosphere that led to the incident?
Cronin:“Absolutely, which is my problem with the game going forward. You’ve got to understand, and this isn’t to say that Xavier doesn’t, because they have good games as well. They play in a good league as well. They have rivalry games. But it’s not like that’s our only intense game. Every game in the BIG EAST is intense and they’re quite more physical than that game. But what’s happened, for whatever reason, is the atmosphere around that game and, as you alluded to, in-game has brought out the worst in people. So with that being said, from an officiating standpoint, there should’ve been multiple technicals called. If you want to look back at this game over the last four years, five years; I don’t recall a game where there were not technical fouls on the players by officials that had control of the game early on. Again, with that being said, it doesn’t absolve us from anything that happened, no matter who was talking. As Yancy talked about, this isn’t the first time it’s happened, but this is the first time we didn’t act the right way when that happened.”

How do you repair your relationship with Xavier?
Cronin: “We’re worried about ourselves right now. We need to repair our reputation and our relationship with our university and our community. That’s something I think athletic director Whit Babcock, (Xavier athletic director) Mike Bobinski and the presidents of the universities (to decide). This isn’t rocket science. If we’re not going to take the floor with each other in an appropriate manner, then there’s no point in taking the floor. It puts people in a bad situation.
“And I’m going to defend these three officials; they were put in a bad situation. This game is always officiated by guys who’ve previously officiated this game. There was a turn of events in assigning of officials from the Atlantic 10 office, where the BIG EAST was not involved, unbeknownst to me or I would’ve reached out to our administration to reach out to their administration to make sure that we had guys on this game that had it before so they understood what they were walking into. And in defense of those guys, they didn’t understand, clearly. I think they thought I was begging for calls when I kept asking for technical fouls to stop the talking. “At halftime I was approached about it, I said, ‘You should’ve already called five T’s.’ He said well, ‘Somebody off your bench might’ve said something.’ I said, ‘T every guy on my bench. I don’t care. This can’t happen. Whoever wins is irrelevant. This can’t happen.’ That’s why I’m so frustrated that there were adults involved in different way in this. It should’ve never come to this. The kids should’ve never been put in the situation they were put in. It should’ve never been allowed to go that far. But again, where I feel the most that I’m beating myself up about is, when the emotional situation broke out, the guys weren’t able to react in the right way. They acted on emotion. They did the wrong things. They’ve told you about it. And no matter what could’ve happened to stop this, we still didn’t act in the right way and we’re fully responsible.”

Is it time to step back from the rivalry and take a break from playing this game every year?
Cronin:“I think I was pretty clear on how I feel about the game. If it can’t be played the right way, it doesn’t need to be played, whether it’s next year or forever. Now, you’ll have to understand that the universities will probably make that decision. I’m going to support my university fully.”

Have any of you reached out to Xavier senior center Kenny Frease?
Cronin:“What you have to understand is that these guys are in a moratorium and a cooling-down period. I’ve sat these guys down. Even if a Xavier player reaches out to apologize for starting something or for pummeling a guy, because it was a two-way street, do not respond. The last thing we need right now is anymore back-and-forth. So these guys have been instructed, ‘Do not talk to those guys right now.’ And some of them are friends; you’ve got to understand that. Some of these guys are friends. Right now, they need to get on with their season and we need to get on with ours. Because it’ll be just like the incident with (UC redshirt sophomore guard/forward) Sean Kilpatrick. Somebody finds out about somebody was talking and this and that, then somebody’s going to blow it out of proportion and make the kids look bad. So the best thing right now to protect them, even though some of them are friends, is to stay away from each other.”

Will you meet with Xavier officials and try to get some closure to this incident?
Cronin: “I think that may be down the road, I’m not sure.
Babcock: “Yes, absolutely.”
Cronin:“Whit and I’ve received a lot of suggestions, as you can imagine, about doing things. There is so much good going on in our community and so many charities we can help. Ask Yancy, we’d be the first guys to be there. Like I’ve said, we’ve got to turn this into a positive. Whether it’s with them or just us doing it, whatever it takes to make everybody realize that kids make mistakes on both sides and realize these guys are good people that made for a few seconds made some really bad decisions.”

How will you take advantage of the opportunity to return to the team UC has given you?
Gates:“Just come in and try to play, even if another team wants to try to do the same thing Xavier did with us, just learn from your mistakes. If that situation happens again I’ll know how to handle it better the next time. Just try to take full advantage of the opportunity when it comes back for me to get to play again.”

Whit, can you tell us about the decision on a six-game suspension?
Babcock: “Within an hour after the game, President Williams and I were together with Coach Cronin. We wanted to take a look at the film and we looked at that exhaustively. After talking with Coach a little bit, we dismissed ourselves from there and he and I came to the conclusion. The difficult thing in the process was there was no real road map for it, so we wanted to do our due diligence. We tried to find some precedent. We spent some time on the phone with the BIG EAST Conference, finding out in all the years of BIG EAST basketball, if there was something we could compare to. We talked to the head official of the BIG EAST that’s been there since the beginning. He gave us some guidance and also expressed that in four years here; he never had any trouble with Yancy Gates – with any of his crews. So, we took that into consideration. We talked to other athletic directors and coaches. We really tried to do our due diligence. We considered every option. We looked at everything from the one game that the NCAA mandated a suspension to dismissing guys for the season. The people in the industry we talked to – again, there was no road map or precedent for this – the numbers that were coming back to us were lower than we came up with.
“After some conversations with the President and doing our due diligence, we were confident in the number of six games. We looked at, ‘Do we stagger them in,’ ‘Do we take some nonconference games off and do it in the BIG EAST?’ We felt like it needed to be an immediate suspension. We felt like it needed to have some teeth to it. No amount of games can take those punches back. God forbid if it happens at another school, they can call us and use us as a road map. We felt like it set the tone. We felt like even though Yancy’s punch damaged the most – understandably so – that the other guys, for engaging their fighting action, are inexcusable. We felt like they should all be punished the same. That’s how we came up with it.”

Was former University of Oregon football player LeGarrette Blount’s punishment considered as a precedent?
Babcock:“That’s a valid and good question. I believe, I don’t know for a fact, but I believe LeGarrette Blount was brought back before that. That certainly doesn’t justify any of that. An equivalent of LeGarrette Blount would have been in the handshake line, that he punched him. We did discuss that. I looked at that, but I just didn’t feel like those two instances were remarkably similar there. I believe, as I recall, LeGarrette Blount, unprovoked, punched him. We felt like this was a little bit different. Absolutely that could have been a precedent. On the basketball side, the numbers that were given – make no mistake about it, it was my decision and the President’s – but the numbers that we were given from people who had numbers of games of mine lower than the one that we put out there. I think now people looking at it, using us – again God forbid it happens again – but they can use us there. We wanted to move swiftly. We didn’t want to rush into it, but we wanted to address it head-on. That was the decision we came up with.”

Is the incident damaging to Yancy Gates’ legacy?
Cronin:“It’s unfortunate. The ultimate penalty that we talk about with our guys and with Whit since he’s been here is that the logo never comes off. When you do something and you’re a public figure, you’re going to hear about it – period. What I talk to my players about all the time is we’re not going to let other people define who we are. One incident, although a horrible incident for a lot of people involved, we won’t let that define us. I’m going to do everything I can, as long as Yancy – as you can see he’s pretty constraint about his feelings. He’s very intelligent and he understands the magnitude of his mistake. There were many people involved who threw punches who maybe just didn’t connect. That’s why we have other guys suspended. That being said, my job, other than being his college basketball coach, which I take seriously, is almost like being his big brother – because I’m not that old – and helping him get on with his life. We’ll get him in the community and help him repair his image. His life will go on. He’s got to use this incident to make himself a better man. There are many young people that make mistakes and don’t get a second chance. The results are much more tragic. This incident could end up the best thing to happen to him, to make him the better man some day. That’s what this is all about. Not to say this in this way, but you’re concerned about his image in basketball. To me that is way off base on what this whole thing is all about. These kids get confused; 98 percent of these guys aren’t going to play in the NBA; 90 percent aren’t going to play professionally from Division-I basketball. It’s all about trying to help these guys become men and they can use this to have a better life. My job will be to take this and help him move forward. Certain people are always going to point to him; he’s never going to be able to control that. But he can control the kind of person he is, the kind of husband he becomes some day, and the kind of father that he already is.”

How different will the team play without the suspended players?
Cronin:“No question about it, we have a game Wednesday night. We have a lot of kids in that locker room that I have to get to in a bit so we can go to practice. There will be some opportunity for guys to play and have us become a better team. We have to use this incident to become a better team. Obviously we’re going to be short-handed, particularly on the front line with only two guys over 6-5 on the team. We’re not going to use that as an excuse. We’re going to use this as a way to get better.”

Will you make sure to involve the BIG EAST to co-assign officials next year?
Cronin: “It would be a home game; the BIG EAST (would be assigning officials). If the BIG EAST would have been involved in the assigning of the officials then that’s what would have happened. But they were not involved this year. In the past the BIG EEAST was involved in even co-assigning rivalry games with the A-10 in an effort to make sure they got off on those types of games (Temple-Villanova, St. Joseph’s-Villanova, Providence-Rhode Island, Cincinnati-Xavier). Because what happens is, if the BIG EAST isn’t involved, the guys that you well know from ESPN, they have to take their BIG EAST assignment and the A-10 can’t get their hands on them for that game and that’s the problem.”
Babcock:“There has been no decision on the game, whether it’s our home game or a neutral site or whether we discontinue the series. I’ve talked to Mike Bobinski. If it does continue, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on the front end to change the culture of that game. It’s not a decision that we take lightly and quite frankly, both Mike and I there were some other more important issues to get to before that. But we’re well aware that’s a discussion that needs to take place.”

On if sitting out is the only thing the players will be doing during their six-game suspension …
Cronin:“There are some other things that they will begin starting tomorrow. First is counseling through our medical staff. We already have a specialist for anger management. Second will be community service. I would like them to speak to high school teams, but I have a feeling that that’s not going to be NCAA compliant. But there will be community service where they are going to talk to kids and make sure that they apologize to the kids that they talk to. That’s why I‘d like it to be basketball players because those area the kids that look up to them most, the kids in their community. The final part of that will be when we come back to school. We are in the process of reaching out to our student government and our student government president to make sure the students that currently attend the university are apologized to by not just myself and the team but in particular the guys that were up here today. They apologize to their classmates. People chose to come to our school and our university and we love it. We feel like we diminished them in some way. So we need to make some amends there.”

On whether he’s ever been involved in a game where none of the referees have ever officiated the game before and how to make sure he’s not in the situation again …
Cronin: “The answer is no, I’ve never been involved. Obviously I’ve been involved as an assistant and as a head coach. Although nobody in this room knows it, just as heated as the Crosstown Shootout is, Murray State-Austin Peay can be when you go down that way. It’s never happened. I’ve never been a part of that. I explained to you why it happened. My frustration, obviously, which I expressed to the BIG EAST office, is that I wish I had known and we could have reached out to all the parties involved. I know this; it’s been a tough first month to walk in here for Whit. If I had known a month ago, I would have said, ‘We have a situation. Somehow we have to get guys in here that understand.’ That’s why I’m upset about it. It could have been handled better. I feel like those guys were sent in an ambush and they had no idea what they were walking into.”
Babcock:“Make no mistake about it. From neither Coach nor I, that’s not an excuse for the behavior. Absolutely not.”

Babcock’s closing comments …
“I have something that I wanted to add, even though nobody asked the question. Regarding the suspension, never once was a win-loss record ever brought up and what impact it would have on the team. And never once was it ever discussed with ticket sales and other things. We purely made – the President and I – based on the due diligence we did, the best decision we thought. Again, whatever number it was, some people might have an issue with it. Whatever number it was, we cannot take the punches back. Our primary goal was to discipline and modify behavior. I’d like to add that. Lastly, just as in the beginning, there’s another group I’d like to apologize to and it’s because I’m one of them and that’s the parents out there. I saw Coach Mack’s comments yesterday. I have three boys at home – 7, 8, and 11 – that were watching that game. There aren’t many channels out there kids can watch and goodness gracious you think it’d be a basketball game. I specifically not only want to apologize to the Bearcat family, but to parents out there that had to address and explain that. I’m one of them. There are a lot of tremendous things at the university and we took a big step back. That pains me deeply. I was proud to take this job and I’m proud to be here now, but we have a lot of significant work to do. I believe these players have zero tolerance. Hopefully it can go one of two ways. I’m banking on it. I told them I expected excellence from them. I expected that it’ll be a turning point in their life and it’ll make them better students, better husbands and fathers and so on. That apology is heartfelt. On behalf of the University of Cincinnati, I’m sorry.”

Mick, have you spoken with Xavier head coach Chris Mack since the incident?
Cronin: “No. We spoke after the game. We both understand the situation is bad. We both looked at each other for five seconds and didn’t know what else to say other than ‘I’m sorry.’ We both know it’s no good for every and all reasons, it’s no good for anybody including all you guys here.”