NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — St. John’s has suspended junior center Chris Obekpa for two weeks for a violation of team rules. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Red Storm.
The school announced Sunday that the suspension would include any postseason games this season until March 29. Ninth-seeded St. John’s will open the NCAA Tournament on Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina, against No. 8 San Diego State.
“Chris has been suspended for a violation of team rules,” coach Steve Lavin said. “All of the young men associated with our program are held to standards consistent with the aims and mission of our University. Accountability is tied to the decision making of our student-athletes. It is our hope Chris will learn from this experience.”
Obekpa tested positive for marijuana, the New York Daily News reported.
Obekpa started 24 of 30 games for the Red Storm (21-11) this season, averaging 5.8 points and 7.0 rebounds. The 6-foot-10 center led the Big East and ranks fifth in the country with 3.2 blocks per game. He blocked 94 shots this season and holds the program’s record with 321 over his career.
Obekpa was ejected from the Red Storm’s loss to Butler on Feb. 3 for throwing an elbow to the head of Tyler Wideman.
Scott Barnes, the chairman of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, said the school informed the committee about the suspension Saturday night. The absence of a suspended player can be taken into account in the selection process.
The committee had “a lot of conversation about it,” and “it impacted their seeding slightly,” Barnes said.
St. John’s last made the dance in 2011 but hasn’t had an NCAA Tournament win since 2000. The Red Storm, without Obekpa, would be on a collision course to face No. 1 Duke if they can get past San Diego State.
“In trying to restore a once-proud program, there are watershed moments,” Lavin said, according to the Daily News. “Winning a game would be the next one. . . . but the goal is to do something special.”
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