It wasn't as if new LIU-Brooklyn men's basketball coach Jack Perri didn't already have his hands full.
Having inherited the reigning two-time defending Northeast Conference champions from Jim Ferry, who moved on to Duquesne after leading the Blackbirds to their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance in March, Perri was already on the hook for delivering a third straight NEC title to Downtown Brooklyn.
But in the wake of an on-campus brawl, allegedly involving four of his players, including reigning NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd, and members of the LIU track team, Perri is under the gun a good six weeks before the Blackbirds open their 2012-13 campaign against Morehead State at the Barclays Center on Nov. 9.
A seven-year assistant under Ferry, the 36-year-old Perri is expected to take the first LIU team to post back-to-back 25-win seasons since 1941-42 back to March Madness.
Unfortunately, the Blackbirds' 'madness' began in September this year.
Boyd and fellow seniors C.J. Garner and Jamal Olasewere, along with redshirt freshman Troy Joseph were arrested last week for their part in the skirmish, which occured at an on-campus party celebrating the start of the fall semester on Sept. 15.
Who did what to whom, and who started what have yet to be fully sorted out, leaving the Blackbirds' administration, including Perri, mum on the matter at the moment.
“Until all legal and appeals processes have been completed, we will not comment further on this matter,” LIU athletic director John Suarez said in a statement.
Though the players have been suspended from the team indefinitely pending further investigation, it is hard to imagine the Blackbirds without Boyd, Olasewere and Garner, each of whom played a vital role in leading the Blackbirds out of virtual obscurity into the national spotlight with a pair of hard-fought first-round NCAA Tournament losses to powerhouses like North Carolina and Michigan State the past two years.
Boyd, who missed the 2009-10 campaign due to a heart condition, has been the Blackbirds' unquestioned on-court leader in their quest to bring big-time college basketball back to our fair borough. The 22-year-old Texan led LIU in scoring and rebounding in each of the past two seasons, and earned NEC Tournament MVP honors last March after putting up 18 points and 10 rebounds in a 90-73 victory over Robert Morris in the league's title game at Brooklyn's Wellness Center, where the Blackbirds have reeled off 27 consecutive wins.
Olasewere, the 2011 NEC Tournament MVP after a memorable 31-point performance in the championship game against RMU, earned First Team All-Conference honors a season ago after averaging 16.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest. The Silver Springs, Md., native perfectly compliments Boyd up front as the two excel at slashing to the basket and drawing fouls from opposing big men via Ferry's hard-charging up-and-down style.
Garner, who started all 34 games last season alongside junior point guard Jason Brickman, has been implicated in starting the now-infamous tussle by getting into an altercation with the party's DJ, who was reportedly trying to calm things down. Garner and Joseph have been accused of throwing punches during the melee while Olasewere allegedly pushed a woman to the ground and kicked her in the head.
Though it's certainly unfair to pass judgement on these young men, or to suggest that they are guilty of anything beyond being accused, the fallout adds an extra burden on Perri, who is simply trying to keep the Blackbirds on course for what promises to be their best season yet during this Downtowon hoops renaissance.
Now, instead of dealing solely with the pressure of winning the conference, the neophyte head coach is suddenly without his top three players in terms of minutes played last season.
It's certainly a rough way to begin a coaching tenure, though a lot can change between now and Nov. 9. And a lot had better if the Blackbirds hope to challenge for another NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Blackbirds did release their non-conference slate. After taking on Morehead State in the opener of the Barclays Center Classic, LIU could meet Lafayette, Maryland or defending national champion Kentucky in the next round, depending on the outcomes of other games.
Perri's crew will try to extend its home dominance at the Wellness Center against Columbia on Nov. 28, Lafayette on Dec. 1 and Hofstra on Dec. 8 before visiting Rice University in Houston on Dec. 12. The Blackbirds will host Manhattan (Dec. 16) and visit Jersey City's St. Peter's (Dec. 19) before participating in the inaugural Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays on Dec. 22 against Seton Hall.
LIU wraps up the non-conference slate against Lamar in Beaumont, Texas on Dec. 29.
“I feel that our non-conference schedule is one of the toughest we've had since I have been here," Perri said. "The two trips to Texas are great for our Texas kids and playing against opponents such as Seton Hall, Maryland and defending national champion Kentucky can only help prepare us for conference play. I know our guys are excited and up for the challenge that lies ahead.”
In other LIU sports news, freshman Robert Soto, a midfielder from Freehold, N.J., was named NEC Rookie of the Week on Monday after scoring his first career goal in Saturday's 1-1 tie with Columbia.
Soto found the back of the net in the third minute against the Lions, taking a pass from senior Jakeem Johnson before unleashing a left-footed shot from about 18 yards that gave LIU an early 1-0 advantage. Soto has played in all eight matches for the struggling Blackbirds (1-6-1), who will open NEC play Friday night against Fairleigh Dickinson in Teaneck, N.J.
LIU Freshman Adriana Vinas Joy was named the NEC Volleyball Defensive Player of the Week on Monday, marking the third time this season the native of San Juan, Puerto Rico has captured the honor. Blackbird players have received one of the three weekly NEC awards in each of the past five weeks.
Vinas Joy recorded 41 total digs over the weekend for an average of 5.12 per set. The first-year libero had 23 digs in a tough five-set win over defending NEC champion Sacred Heart, and 18 digs in the Blackbirds' 3-0 win against Quinnipiac.
The Blackbirds were scheduled to visit Stony Brook on Tuesday night.
Over on Remsen Street, senior Adam Maabdi of the St. Francis College men's soccer squad was named the NEC Player of the Week after scoring two goals and registering five points during the Terriers' ongoing three-game unbeaten streak (2-0-1).
The native of Lille, France will lead his teammates back into action Friday night at Brooklyn's Aviator Sports Complex when the Terriers host NEC rival Mount St. Mary's for their conference opener.
Brooklyn native Shani Abrahams made history last Thurday, assisting on the first goal in Brooklyn College women's soccer history and scoring the next one as the Lady Bulldogs (2-2-1) beat visiting York College, 2-0, on the campus' brand new athletic field for the program's first win. Abrahams, who was named the CUNYAC Rookie of the Week for her performance, also helped the Bulldogs beat NYU-Poly, 2-0, at the Aviator Sports Complex on Monday night.
BC will return to the pitch looking to climb above the .500 mark on Oct. 1 against visiting College of Staten Island.
The BC men edged NYU-Poly, 1-0, at Aviator on Monday as reigning CUNYAC Player of the Week Pajtim Gjonbalaj scored the game's lone goal, helping the Bulldogs improve to 5-3-1 and extend their unbeaten streak to five games (2-0-2). BC will visit Hunter College at Randall's Island on Wednesday.