Sunday, October 05, 2008

Musings on Miles, UConn

As Nate Miles and his lawyer, Rob Britt, waited to appear before Judge Kenneth Shluger on Tuesday at Rockville Superior Court, one UConn student after another was called in front of Judge Kenneth Shluger to answer to charges against them.

Most of these charges had to do with marijuana possession or possession of alcohol as a minor, including at least one freshman who was arrested on virtually his very first day on the UConn campus.

The six UConn beat writers – including myself – seated in the front row of the courtroom could have cared less about any of the other UConn kids that morning. Sure, it provided a bit of amusement (never would have guessed the kid who looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo might have smoked ganja). But we were there to see what became of the Miles situation, just like we were about eight months earlier when Doug Wiggins appeared in the same courtroom to answer charges of possession of alcohol as a minor and operating on a suspended license.

For all we knew, some of the other UConn kids that morning could have been members of other Husky sports teams. Didn’t matter.

And there lies the paradox of what it means to be a UConn men’s basketball player. Get arrested, or cited, for something that any number of your fellow classmates get busted for on a weekly basis, and your name gets splattered all over the headlines. (Granted, violating a restraining order is a bit more serious than getting caught with a couple of bottles of cognac and vodka – even if Miles’ phone call to the alleged victim may have been a simple error in judgment. More on that later.)

The flip side, of course, is that UConn men’s basketball players get boatloads more publicity for their performance in their venue than virtually any other athletes at the school. When third-string guard Donnell Beverly comes of the bench to play 19 minutes of solid defense and makes a couple of nice passes in an upset win at Indiana, he’ll get more good press than a UConn soccer or tennis player may get all year.

That’s just the way it is when you play for the most high-profile sports team in the state. You’ve got to take the good with the bad, understand that you’re held to a higher standard than your peers, rightly or wrongly, and make smart decisions. Nate Miles made some very poor decisions in just his first couple of months on campus.

UConn players have been hit with a bunch of legal incidents over the past decade or so, but I don't believe that Jim Calhoun is recruiting a bunch of thugs. I wasn't here when A.J. Price was busted for stealing laptops (along with Marcus Williams) -- a stupid mistake, no doubt. But in my dealings with A.J., he appears to be a terrific, nice young man from a good family. Jerome Dyson and Wiggins aren't thugs, either, even if they both made some obvious mistakes while at UConn.

I didn't get a chance to get to know Nate Miles. The extent of my conversations with him were a 5-minute phone call with him after he was accepted at UConn, a 15-minute chat with him over the summer at Gampel, and a 10-second talk with him the other night by phone after his explusion ("What up, dawg," he said after I introduced myself that night).

I can't pretend to have a gauge on what type of kid Miles is, though there's plenty of evidence to indicate he was a high risk.

So, did Miles deserved to be expelled from UConn for his actions over the past month? Very tricky question. There seems to be plenty of ambiguity in some of the things Miles is charged with doing. But then, there seems to be plenty of ambiguity in Nate Miles’ entire 20-year-old life.

It’s hard to believe Miles’ past didn’t play a role in the decision to expel him. We all know the track record. Five high schools in 4 ½ years is pretty ridiculous, but only a bit more ridiculous than what’s become the norm with so many high school stars these days. Amare Stoudemire, product of a broken home like Miles, attended six different high schools. Current UConn commits Alex Oriakhi and Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel are currently each on their third different school up in Tilton, N.H.

As far as we know, Miles has never had any problems with the law, though he was expelled from one of his high schools in Toledo, Ohio. He certainly arrived at UConn with less of a spotty past than, say, Caron Butler, who led a crime-filled youth before straightening out at Maine Central Institute and becoming a shining example of how a kid can turn around his life while at UConn.

As his former guardian Sean Patterson freely admits, Miles has had problems with authority, and will do lots of little things that will annoy you and drive you crazy, but will generally keep out of trouble. Patterson also said that Miles had never had any trouble with women before.

We may not know all of the details of the situation brought before a UConn administrative board on Thursday. However, both parties seem to agree about the reasons behind the restraining order – Miles would dig his nails into the alleged victim’s skin at times when he got angry, “tapped” her a few times (whatever that means) and once slapped her and pushed her off his bed after she had hit him. He also allegedly tried to physically force her to have sex, at one time pushing her by her head so that she would perform oral sex, according to her affidavit.

Is that sexual assault? By definition, perhaps. Certainly, when the words “sexually assaulted” from her written statement were reported here first, it seemed Miles’ fate was doomed. Patterson insists that the woman told the disciplinary board on Thursday that she only wanted an apology from Miles and that everything was consensual, though Patterson wasn’t at the meeting (he lives in Texas), and neither Miles nor Britt were in the room when the woman met with the board.

It does seem that college campuses, often bastions of liberalism, can be a bit overprotective of females when allegations of sexual misconduct are levied. Do we really need to bring up the Duke lacrosse situation?

Nate Miles deserved punishment for breaking the law by violating the restraining order, as well as for his actions involving the alleged victim. But, like Miles’ entire life, those actions can be viewed with a certain amount of conjecture.

Should Miles have been suspended from the team, maybe even for a full season? That’s fair. Did he deserve to be expelled from the University of Connecticut? I don’t know … I probably would have given him another chance.

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