James Still pleads guilty to felony assault
Readers may recall that when James Still committed to EMU this spring, we noted his past brushes with the law.
As a freshman at Providence…in April 2010, Still was in a bar fight (why was a 19-year-old freshman in a bar, anyway?) with teammate Vincent Council. Days later Still and Johnnie Lacy, also a freshman for the Friars, attacked and beat another Providence student (a male senior, apparently chosen at random) and both were charged with felony assault (both pleaded not guilty…no word on what happened after that…) and expelled from the school. Since then he’s been at Henry Ford Community College where he’s stayed out of trouble — or at least out of the headlines — and in 25 games played this year he averaged more than 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks per game. He’ll have two years of college eligibility left, and Scout says he’s verbally committed to EMU.
See that “no word on what happened after that”? Well, here’s the word.
In May, 2012 (yes, more than two years after the incident), Lacy took a plea agreement and was sentenced to serve three years of a 10-year prison sentence, followed by probation for the remainder of his sentence. Still rejected the plea agreement at that time.
Yesterday, shortly before what appears to have been a hearing to schedule the trial, Still entered a guilty plea. Still is out on bail until January 8, 2013, when he faces up to 20 years in prison. I have to guess that since he did finally plead guilty he probably won’t get the full 20 years, but for rejecting the initial offer he’ll probably get a good bit more than the three years that Lacy got.
As for his future with EMU, according to the Detroit Free Press, “[a]n EMU spokesman declined to comment on the status of Still”. As of this writing he does remain listed on the men’s basketball team roster. Certainly he’ll be gone after January 8, which means all he could play would be the non-conference schedule. Entirely aside from any ethical or perception problems, it doesn’t make sense from a team development point of view for him to remain on the team. I expect that by the time the next game rolls around, Friday night against Eastern Illinois, Still will be gone from the team.
I’m going to skip any moralizing about how James Still is getting what he deserves for what appears to be a random act of violence, and also going to skip any hand-wringing over the fact that not only is Still’s basketball career over, his college education is probably over, and as a felon, he’s likely to have a difficult time finding a job after prison. That’s all true, but it’s also all beside the point of this blog.
As far as the team is concerned, this is obviously a loss, but it’s hardly insurmountable. Although he’s one of the more talented players at EMU, this probably means that Glenn Bryant, Daylen Harrison, and Jamell Harris will get more playing time. I don’t think this significantly changes my outlook for this season, which is that the team will at least contend for another MAC West Division title, but probably not for an overall MAC championship.
There’s a bigger picture, however, which I find more worrisome. This comes less than two months after the revelation that former EMU football players Eric Jones and Kinsman Thomas were involved in an on-campus assault. And Still is not the only EMU basketball player with a checkered past. Just over a year ago, freshman Ray Lee was charged with four counts of felony sexual assault; although the charges were later dropped, it was this incident that ended his recruitment by Iowa, eventually bringing him to Ypsilanti.
This highlights a dilemma that faces EMU in trying to build successful athletic programs. Too often when a school like EMU lands a highly talented athlete, it’s because of some problem in their past. EMU coaches and administrators are forced to walk a fine line — too far one way and you’re fielding uncompetitive programs, too far the other way and you’re “winning” the Fulmer Cup.