RENO " A defensive Nevada Wolf Pack athletic director Cary Groth and men's basketball head coach David Carter called a press conference Thursday afternoon to scold the northern Nevada media.
"These are good kids," said Groth, glancing over at the Wolf Pack men's basketball players assembled in the Hall of Fame room of Legacy Hall on the Nevada campus. "Every one of the kids in our program are good kids. We have over 450 student athletes and with 450 student athletes we are going to have issues from time to time. And when we do we will handle it swiftly and professionally. And that's what we've done."
Groth said she was upset at the media's reporting of the Ahyaro Phillips incident this past week. Phillips, a freshman basketball player, was involved in an altercation with sophomore football player Adam Liranzo on April 15 at the campus' Lombardi Recreation Center. Phillips was arrested by campus police on two counts of possession of a dangerous weapon (a BB gun and a .22 caliber handgun) and is scheduled for arraignment May 1 in Reno.
"We're here to talk about accountability," Groth said, opening the press conference. "We are going to be accountable for what we do and for who we bring to this program. But we also want you (the media) to be accountable, too."
Groth reprimanded the media for attempting to contact Wolf Pack basketball players after the Phillips' story was made public last week by the athletic department and for reporting that Carter was unavailable for comment this past week. Carter said he was on a recruiting trip to Australia.
"We have good kids," said Carter, who was named the men's basketball coach April 3, one day after head coach Mark Fox accepted the same position at the University of Georgia. "I've been here 10 years and I've been involved in recruiting all of these kids. Sure, kids are going to make mistakes. And it's my job to make sure they walk a straight path. But these are good kids."
Wolf Pack football player Jonathan Ott and basketball players Adam Carp and London Giles were also present at the Lombardi Rec Center incident, according to police reports. The police report also revealed that sophomore basketball player Armon Johnson was also questioned by police after Phillips told them that the handgun that fell out of his pocket during the altercation was at Johnson's house. Johnson, who said he was given the gun three weeks earlier by a friend to hold, turned the handgun over to police last Friday.
Phillips, though, was the only one arrested and punished by the athletic department.
"The other players involved did nothing wrong," said Groth, who also revealed that the football and men's basketball teams conducted a meeting this week. "We've looked at all of the facts. A friend gave the gun to Armon to hold. Armon did not give the gun to Ahyaro. Armon is not in trouble. It is not against the law to have a gun, even if that gun is not yours."
All of the current Wolf Pack players, Johnson included, were present at the press conference but were told to leave by Carter before the press conference concluded and were not made available to the media.
"Armon should never be associated with Ahyaro Phillips," Carter said. "Armon did nothing wrong."
Groth, though, said that she will consider making a rule regarding the possession of handguns by student athletes on or off campus. "Never in a million years did I think I would ever have to develop a rule about handguns," she said. "But, you know what? It will be something I will consider."
The incident at Lombardi was Phillips' second involving police in just the last seven months. He was arrested for shoplifting at a local sporting goods store last fall along with teammates Brandon Fields and Giles.
"That young man was given a second chance and he didn't honor it," said Groth of Phillips. "So we acted swiftly and professionally."
"It is a privilege for these young men to get a scholarship," Carter said. "Ahyaro had a second chance. It was my decision to dismiss him from the team. We won't tolerate that type of behavior."
Carter, though, wants the northern Nevada media to put the incident behind them.
"This issue with Ahyaro is over in our books," he said.
Groth also expressed displeasure at media reports this week that brought attention to incidents involving former Wolf Pack athletes Kirk Snyder and Kevinn Pinkney. Snyder was arrested for aggravated burglary this month in Ohio and Pinkney was cited for a D.U.I. in 2007 in Reno.
"Those things with Kevinn Pinkney and Kirk Snyder had nothing to do with this (Phillips) incident," Groth said. "Why should an athletic department be held accountable for Kevinn Pinkney and Kirk Snyder, years after they leave the program."
The only real news to come out of the press conference is that Carter confirmed that sophomore Malik Cooke has asked the university to release him from his scholarship and waive the mandatory one-year waiting period before he can play basketball at another Division I school. Carter said Cooke asked to leave the program shortly after the season ended while Fox will still the head coach.
"It had nothing to do with Ahyaro Phillips and it had nothing to do with Coach Fox leaving," Carter said. "He'll make his decision to leave or stay in the next few days or weeks."
Groth said the school has denied Cooke's request and if Cooke leaves Nevada he will be required under NCAA rules to sit out a season of basketball.
"If he ever chooses to play basketball again in his lifetime he will have to sit out a year," Groth said.
Groth said the Phillips incident would not hurt the Wolf Pack's recruiting. Carter, though, wasn't sure.
"It may set us back a little," said Carter, who added that he has "a couple scholarships" to fill. "I've heard some questions from parents and athletes. I have nothing to hide about this program."
Carter also scolded the media for addressing the possibility that freshman Luke Babbitt might transfer. "If Luke Babbitt was going to transfer, he would have done it three weeks ago when Coach Fox left," Carter said. "Luke Babbitt is not going to leave this program."
Carter admitted that he has had a rough first three weeks on the job.
"It's been pretty difficult," he said. "With the stories about Luke leaving, about Malik Cooke, about Ahyaro Phillips, it's been pretty stressful. But we'll learn from this and move forward. This will bring this team closer together."