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Associated Press Newswires

Hofstra Starters Return After Suspensions

January 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -- Rick Apodaca and Wendell Gibson got to wear blue shirts at practice Thursday.

That may not sound like much, but it was the first time this season the two players had a chance at wearing the color the starters have on during a Hofstra basketball practice.

For the first time this season, the two were at practice getting ready for a game. Their 14-game suspensions for testing positive for marijuana have ended and they will be in the starting lineup Saturday against Old Dominion.

The Pride (2-12) have certainly struggled without Apodaca, a 6-foot-3 senior who averaged 17.7 points last season and was a second-team all-Colonial Athletic Association selection, and Gibson, a 6-7 sophomore who averaged 6.4 points and 5.3 rebounds last season.

Apodaca, a preseason all-CAA pick this season, said he hopes people look at the situation as he and Gibson have.

``I just hope everybody handles this as we have and the coaching staff has,'' he said. ``That everybody puts this behind them and just sees us as two young men who made a mistake and with the help of our teammates, coaches and families we faced it and hope it won't be a burden on our shoulders the rest of our careers, especially Wendell because he has two more years.''

When the suspensions -- set by Hofstra at half the season -- were announced the school only said it was an unspecified violation of university policy. Hofstra still has given no more details than that.

The players, however, released their own statement to the media to let people know the reason and end any speculation that might have surfaced.

Their teammates' way of helping was to post a calendar in the locker room and they X-ed out each day heading toward Jan. 18.

``I looked at the calendar today and we have one more day, tomorrow,'' Apodaca said.

Second-year Hofstra coach Tom Pecora wouldn't let the team get caught up in using their teammates' suspensions as an excuse, even when injuries took down starters Danny Walker and Osei Millar for the rest of the season.

``I never referred to them,'' he said. ``I always tell the players when I recruit them that it's not going to be a perfect four years, never is. It's just like a family with a problem, you don't bail on anyone who has some trouble. We embraced Rick and Wendell but we moved forward. We treated them as if they were injured.

``But there were games when I went down toward the end of bench and squatted to watch the game and I turned and saw Rick and Wendell and Danny and Osei sitting there and I had to get up because I was depressed looking at 40 points and 20 rebounds in street clothes.''

Apodaca, who played for Puerto Rico in the World Championships last summer and will in this year's Olympic qualifying tournament, and Gibson were allowed to practice with the team during the suspensions.

``That made it much easier,'' Gibson said. ``It helped us to stay focused to be around our teammates and coaches who encouraged us the whole way.''

Pecora sounded confident the players learned from this and knows he did.

``No doubt it made me a better coach,'' he said. ``You have to learn every day and let the kids know that. That's the teaching part of this job.''

Apodaca knows there are fans who expect he and Gibson to take off their warmups and solve all the problems the Pride have had so far this season.

``The most frustrating thing was to see our teammates out there and not be able to do certain things we would be able to help them with,'' he said. ``It's human nature for people to say `What if this would have happened,' and `What if they were here.'

``If we do come out and start winning we want everyone to know it's not just me and Wendell, it's all of us. Coach Pecora has been with us every step of the way and we want all of the players and coaches to get credit because they have been so supportive during the whole process.''

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