Damian Buckley has always enjoyed watching basketball. But now he’s quickly learning to hate it. The Stingers’ starting point guard is perfectly healthy, but has yet to play in 2007. Instead, he’s watched his team win two of three games without him.
By now Buckley should also have played in those three Quebec University Basketball League games since the holiday break, beginning with a Jan. 4 road game in Laval. But that’s where Buckley’s story begins. Where or when it ends is anybody’s guess.
With the Stingers preparing for their 1 p.m. departure for Quebec City that Friday afternoon, Buckley was called into head coach John Dore’s office. He was then told that he would not play that night against Laval, or the next day against McGill. He was also not to practice with the team until further notice.
Concordia’s Athletic Department had suspended Buckley indefinitely due to what they considered to be academic underachievement during the first term.
“I was shocked. Totally,” Buckley tells The Concordian, after taking in his teammates’ practice this past Monday.
At the time of the decision, Buckley led the Stingers in assists, free throws, steals and assist-to-turnover ratio. He was also third on the team averaging 14.8 points-per-game. As the team’s on-court leader, he’s often considered the Stingers’ best player.
Buckley blames an error on his transcript for what is quickly turning into a forgetful month for the 21-year-old. Concordia has acknowledged the error, but correcting it on an official transcript could take weeks.
He admits to having struggled in two courses he took last semester, but the error in the transcript suggests difficulty in a third course in which he in fact enjoyed relative success.
Even with the erroneous transcript, Buckley is unsure why the Athletic Department has come down on him. He maintains that as long as the CIS considers him eligible, as it does, there’s no reason for his being sidelined.
“Right now I’m not allowed to play basketball,” Buckley says. “But I’m still watching the team at every practice, and I’m going to all the games. So time-wise, I’m actually putting in the same hours. There’s no difference. I don’t see where the benefit is.”
Buckley hopes to meet Athletic Director Katie Sheahan within the next few days, to discuss possible reinstatement. He says he still feels in the dark about the situation, citing a lack of communication with Sheahan.
“We just spoke once on the phone, and then she was away for a couple of days last week.”
Should the two finally meet in person this week, Buckley is hopeful that he could be back in uniform as early as this Friday’s home game against McGill. But the sophomore knows it’s no sure thing.
“I’m very nervous,” he says of the eventual meeting. “There’s no way to know what they’re thinking.”
The Concordian tried to find out, but Sheahan and the Athletic Department could not be reached as of publication deadline.
Head coach John Dore says that in his 18 years at Concordia, he has never experienced a situation like this, but that he’ll do whatever it takes to help his player. Buckley says the support has been pouring in.
“Guys on the team have been e-mailing the Athletic Department, people have been calling (Sheahan), and even alumni are getting involved.”
In return, Buckley just hopes he can pay everyone back.
“I don’t want to let my teammates down like this,” he says. “I have a strong feeling that this could be our year. Provincially for sure and probably nationally too.”
Buckley points to a pair of lopsided wins three weeks ago over then-second-ranked British Columbia and number-four Victoria as true indications of Concordia’s potential.
“We’re definitely one of the best teams in the country,” he says. “I want to be apart of it.”
Stingers finally lose in conference play
Stingers coach John Dore may as well have sent out a search party during last Friday’s 84-71 loss at UQAM. His first place team seemed to be missing.
The Stingers missed defensive assignments, free throws and the opportunity to extend their unbeaten record in the conference. Once again, they were also missing starting point guard Damian Buckley. Buckley remains sidelined for academic reasons, and without him the Stingers looked out of sorts.
“You don’t want to say that one player makes a team,” said UQAM head coach Olga Hrycak, “but Damian really does make a difference. No disrespect to the other guys who played, but it would be wrong for me to pretend that [Buckley’s absence] wasn’t a factor.”
Despite winning a pair of close games last weekend, reality finally set in for the Stingers in this, their third game without Buckley. Against the Citadins, Concordia blew a 15 point first-half lead, and played arguably their worst second half of the year.
The Stingers defence was non-existent in the final 20 minutes, giving up a season-high 59 points.
“I thought our guys played without any emotion or enthusiasm,” said coach Dore. “They were very lethargic offensively and defensively, and when [UQAM] stepped up and started to take charges, and decided to lift their game, our guys didn’t.”
Concordia didn’t help matters shooting 7-19 from the free throw line, including eight straight misses in the second half.
Patrick Perrotte had 19 points for the Stingers, Dwayne Buckley chipped in with 18, and Ben Sormonte also reached double digits with 15 points.
Mario Joseph led UQAM with 20 points.
The loss drops Concordia to 7-1 in conference play, still good enough for first place in the Quebec University Basketball League. The team’s number-three ranking in the national polls is likely to drop. UQAM improves to 2-5 on the season, and ends a 13-game regular season losing streak against Concordia.
The Stingers return to Loyola Gym Friday night at 6 p.m., when they face McGill (4-3).
1 Carleton (1)
2 St. F.X. (2)
3 Brandon (8)
4 Windsor (7)
5 Concordia (3)
6 UBC (4)
7 Ottawa (5)
8 Cape Breton (9)
9 Victoria (6)
10 York (NR)