College coaches are busy people. Regardless of the season, they rarely have time to waste.
So whenever the need arose to give Danny Manning or Dave Clawson a call in accordance with my duties as Wake beat reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal, I made sure I asked at least two questions. If natural follow-up questions were in order, I’d follow up. But my main intention was to ask the two things that I – and the fans who followed Wake basketball or football – most needed to know.
What is your reaction to whatever it is I’m calling about? And what do you see as the impact on the program?
The tragic news that assistant basketball coach Jamill Jones, while in New York City, allegedly punched a man who ended up dead caught up with me in Boston, where my bride Tybee and I were visiting our daughter Rebecca and her beau/fiance Steve. For at least the hundredth time I was thanking my lucky stars that I retired last August and thus, was no longer responsible for chasing down the story
In incidents such as these, nobody wants to talk. Most good lawyers will maintain that in incidents such as these, nobody should talk — at least not on the record. The chances are far too great that they’ll end up saying something that, in time, they’ll wish they’d never said.
Best I can tell, no one has called Danny Manning for his reaction. If they have, I’ve seen no comments from Manning anywhere.
All of which is completely understandable.
Jones has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor assault. The New York Post is reporting that because the Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death of Sabor Szabo a homicide, that Jones might eventually be charged with murder.
The Post quotes Jones’ lawyer, Alain Massena, as casting doubt on that ever happening.
“I can tell you the reason why the charge is what it is now – the reason it’s the appropriate charge – is because the District Attorney’s Office and I obtained information that the public does not have,’’ Massena told the Post. “If we put all that information out there, I think it would put a different picture of that night. But our concern right now is to respect the fact that a family has lost a son.’’
The only official reaction from Wake Forest was to put Jones on leave and express the university’s heartfelt condolences to the Szabo’s family. And that will almost certainly be that until the facts emerge as to what really happened outside a Queens Hotel early Sunday morning of Aug. 5.
Police have said that Szabo banged on the window of Jones’ SUV, apparently mistaking the SUV for his Uber ride. The Associated Press reported on Aug. 10 that a person familiar with the investigation told the news organization that Szabo may have been drunk and knocking on car windows before Jones allegedly confronted him.
According to the AP report, police say that Jones got out of his vehicle, punched Szabo, and got back in his vehicle and sped off. Szabo was said to have fallen and hit his head, never to regain consciousness. He was taken off life support Tuesday.
The questions I have will remain questions until verifiable facts emerge. But one of the biggest is why did Jones, according to police, leave the scene? And why, if the incident took place in the early hours of Sunday, did almost five full days elapse before Jones turned himself in to police on Thursday?
Maybe there are reasonable explanations. I will certainly remain open to the possibility. But I can imagine that Ron Wellman, the director of athletics, feels the need to know the same answers before he and other officials at Wake decide Jones’ immediate professional fate and whether or not any additional actions might need to be taken.
Which brings us to the second question I always have in these circumstances. What will be the impact of all this on the Wake basketball program? I did see where Justin Bauman, the director of basketball operations the past four seasons, will expand his duties to include those of interim assistant coach.
I got to know Bauman well enough to think of him as a good man, and he’ll do the best job he’s capable of doing. But for the life of me, I can’t see how any impact on the Wake basketball program from all of this is going to be anything but decidedly negative.
There are plenty who love Wake basketball who are convinced that the program has been struggling under a dark cloud for many years now. Some even trace that struggle all the way back to another unspeakable tragedy, the death of Skip Prosser 11 summers ago.
The more cynical among the masses will maintain that little has gone right since Chris Paul punched Julius Hodge of N.C. State is a super sensitive area in the regular-season finale of the 2005 season – and then told us reporters on the scene that he did no such thing.
Obviously 13 seasons is a long time for a dark cloud to hover over any program. Unfortunately, for many reasons, the dark cloud has just this month gotten darker.
Much, much darker.