The Cost of the White Hat

It has been a bemusing offseason for Brad Redford and the Musketeers.

In every good story, there's a good guy and a bad guy. The protagonist may have his flaws, but he is still the favorable character. There's a reason the audience wants him to win. Real life is rarely that simple, but we are naturally inclined and socially conditioned to look for the good guys and bad guys in day-to-day life and then cheer accordingly. Nowhere is this more simply distilled than in sports.

For years, the Xavier basketball program has worn the white hats. Locally, the Crosstown Shootout was the battle of the plucky, small Jesuit school who graduated everybody against the huge public university bullies. Our coach stuck around to see out his contract, just like he said he would. Their coach looked like a guy who might drink and then go for a drive. Their guys came in with attitudes and barbed wire on their arms and left under questionable circumstances. Our guys came in humble, tattooed the X on their shoulders, and then came back for their senior years.
On the national level, the school was also seen as "doing it the right way." David West was a poster child for the way Xavier rolls. So was (and is) Sister Rose Ann Fleming. Almost everyone who went through Xavier came out the other side with a degree and the experience of participating in one of the most highly-regarded programs in the nation. Occasionally there was a Lloyd Price or a Dedrick Finn who would make news for the wrong reasons, but those players were quickly dismissed and life went on.

Obviously, things changed on a local and national level at last year's Crosstown Shootout. Anything that was left after the fight disappeared as soon as the word "gangsta" left Tu's mouth. Even though he immediately clarified "not thugs, but tough guys on the court," the story was written. The media portrayed Tu as an unapologetic rabble-rouser, and he went underground for two months to sort things out in his own head.
On the heels of all that - and the departure of the King of Upstate to Arizona - comes the disappointing news that Dezmine Wells has been removed from the team and expelled from the University for an unspecified code of conduct violation. There are probably only two ways to look at this. Either the program has completely gotten away from Coach Mack et al. and there is a rampant lack of control, or that the Coach is tightening the reins and anyone - no matter how integral he is to the on-court success of the team - who steps out of line is going to be punished.

Until there is reason to confirm the former, I'm going with the latter. Coach Mack hasn't given any reason to believe he does anything other than practice what he preaches. Penn State swept (an admittedly much larger) scandal under the rug and kept their spotless reputation intact for years before having to pay the piper. Xavier's reputation hasn't been done any favors in the last year or so - and some of the issues were obviously public as soon as they happened - but the school and the program are now (for better or worse) bereft of the main players in that saga.

It's hard to tell your leading returning scorer that he's free to go elsewhere if he doesn't want to fall in line with the coach's expectations. It's hard to tell the guy who then became your leading returning scorer that the student code of conduct applies to everyone. That's cost of wearing the white hats, though. Hopefully it's worth it.
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