KNOXVILLE — Coaches, players, administrators and fans want closure on the weekend arrest of four University of Tennessee men’s basketball players for misdemeanor weapons, drug and alcohol charges.
That’s not always how the process works, though, as coach Bruce Pearl, men’s athletic director Mike Hamilton and others cautioned Monday.
Answers are gradually seeping in following the arrests of Tyler Smith, Cameron Tatum, Melvin Goins and Brian Williams, but much more is open for investigation and debate at this point.
The most basic information available is that none of the four players will participate in Wednesday’s home game against Charlotte. Beyond that is uncertainty before the players’ Jan. 14 arraignment.
“It’s been a very difficult time, and we have tried to be as honest and open as we possibly could, given the circumstances and the information that we know and passing that on,” Pearl said. “We are still very, very much in a difficult state as it relates to our feelings of disappointment, both for these four young men as well as the people that have played for the University of Tennessee and our basketball programs. As long as I’ve been here, we’ve really worked hard to try to get our basketball program up to the level of excellence and credibility of the rest of the university. When things like this happen, it tarnishes everything that we’re trying to do.
“We have several, several things that, when you add them all together, it’s a worst-case scenario. I’d like to try and treat each individual fairly and, as we continue to gain the facts, we’ll make decisions as it relates to their responsibility in the incident.”
As of Monday night, the players were still facing merely misdemeanor charges from the Knoxville Police Department, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives could add felony charges in connection with one of the two weapons — the one with an altered serial number — found in the vehicle. The KPD serial number charge is a misdemeanor that doesn’t differentiate between weapons and items such as kitchen appliances.
KPD officials said the players admitted knowledge of the guns but not why they were in the vehicle, or who placed them there. They said no one claimed ownership of the marijuana, either, but the initial officer’s request to search the vehicle was denied. A police dog inspection ultimately gave officers probable cause to search it, anyway.
A 9 millimeter, semiautomatic Taurus handgun with an altered serial number was found under Smith’s front passenger’s seat, and a 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun was found under Tatum’s driver’s seat. Goins was seated behind Tatum, and Williams was behind Smith.
KPD officials said forensics tests and background checks for the weapons are under way in efforts to locate potential owners and handlers.
Records state a backpack in the backseat with Williams’ name contained a plastic bag of marijuana. An open alcohol container was also found in the bag seat, according to documents.
Tatum was released from jail after posting a $1,000 bond, while Goins, Smith and Williams were released after posting $1,500, $2,000 and $2,500 bonds.
Pearl and Hamilton said they’d met with the four players. They described them as humbled, embarrassed, apologetic and concerned.
“I’d have been disappointed if they were anything other than that,” Hamilton said. “These are not fun times, and they realize that.”
A multi-step process will likely need completion before Hamilton and Pearl decided who could possibly return to the team, and when. First and foremost, authorities will wrap up their investigation and decide final charges. Then some or all of the four will have their days in court. The four also will go through a UT student judiciary committee hearing. All but Smith, who lives off campus, will be required to meet with campus housing committees.
“You put yourself in a position of these are your four sons, and this is what they’re going through right now,” Pearl said. “And then, if you think about the other members of your family — the other student-athletes on the team, the other student-athletes on all the other teams, the entire student body, our athletic family, our fans and donors, university officials, a faculty member and the guy that’s going to clean this room up after we leave — I feel that burden and that responsibility for having let all of those people down. There’s a balance in there. As a father, you have to love them. You have to care about them. You have to set a high expectation for them. You’ve got to discipline them, and I understand that everything I do has great impact.
“At the same time, you want to keep in perspective the fact that the four individuals had no criminal record and have done a lot of really good things at the university and are just as devastated and embarrassed and upset as anybody. So it’s really important that we treat them fairly.”
Senior point guard Bobby Maze, one of three Vols who spoke with reporters after Tuesday’s practice, described his arrested teammates as a “great group of guys who made bad decisions.”
“It’s tough on us, and it’s tough on them, but we’re going to stick together, and we’re going to get through this,” Maze said. “They’re embarrassed. Our team is embarrassed. We’re all embarrassed for this program and this university, but we’re just going to try to move forward. The thing that hurts them the most, and hurts us as a team the most, and me, is that we’ve been around these guys every day, and we know what types of guys they are.
“But when you make mistakes, you have to pay the price. And whatever response you get from it, you just have to take it.”
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