Players surprised, frustrated by coaching change

Thursday, March 2, 2006

But most expressed optimism about the immediate future.

Several Southeast Missouri State basketball players said Wednesday they were surprised and frustrated by the university's decision not to extend coach Gary Garner's contract.

But sophomore point guard Paul Paradoski said he saw it coming -- not that his premonition made things any easier to take.

"I had a good idea Tuesday night when I was talking to some people [at the Southeast's women's basketball game at the Show Me Center]," Paradoski said. "All the talk last year about whether coach Garner would be back, then the season we had this year [Southeast went 7-20], I just thought, there's no way they would keep him here, he's on the brink anyway."

Still, Paradoski said: "When coach Garner called me this morning and left me a message, it kind of hit me. I might be taking it harder than anybody. I'm really upset about this. I wish he would have stayed. I think all the players are pretty upset."

Paradoski, already a two-year starter, said he is particularly dismayed by the university's decision because of the way Garner entrusted him with running Southeast's offense.

"I fell into a situation that most people aren't going to experience. I got so lucky to come in and start my first two years," Paradoski said. "Coach Garner had more confidence in me than anyone else."

Junior guard Terrick Willoughby, the second-leading scorer for the Redhawks this season at 9.8 points per game, said he was taken aback by the news.

"To be honest with you, I was very surprised," Willoughby said. "I'm a little frustrated, because I've been with him three years. It takes a while to develop a trust between a player and a coach, and I've developed a trust with him."

But Willoughby is realistic enough to know that success -- or lack of success -- generally dictates a coach's future at a particular school. Southeast has had four losing seasons in the past five years.

"I feel like, the reality is, this is a business. If we don't win, he gets the boot," Willoughby said. "But I thought he was a great coach. I will miss him dearly."

Mike Rembert, part of Southeast's heralded transfer tandem -- along with Brandon Foust -- who many people expect will help the Redhawks climb back toward the top of the OVC next season, said he was surprised.

Continued Rembert: "It was in the back of our mind a little bit [that a change might be made], but knowing the type of team we had next year, I thought he would be back. I mainly came here because of the coaches. I have a lot of respect for coach Garner and his staff."

Still, Rembert -- a 6-foot-9, 250-pound center, who along with forward Foust will have two seasons of eligibility at Southeast beginning next year -- said he and Foust aren't contemplating leaving the program.

"We both talked about it, and we both plan on being here," Rembert said. "Regardless of who the coach is, whether it's coach Garner or whoever, we can still have a special team the next two years."

Willoughby feels the same way, saying, "I'm still looking forward to next year. We can be really good. I have no idea if everybody is planning to come back, but I'm definitely coming back."

Paradoski, who seemed the most upset among the three that Garner will not return, said he wouldn't rule out some players -- including himself -- leaving the program, although he wants to wait a while and let his emotions calm down.

"I don't really know if I'm coming back, I just have to wait and see," Paradoski said. "I don't want to say anything just because I'm frustrated, but it wouldn't surprise me if a few guys left."

Added Paradoski, with an eye toward the future: "If everything pans out and everybody stays, we should have a really good team next year, but you never know, with this stuff happening."

Garner, who said he contacted most of the players by phone Wednesday morning to inform them of the university's decision, said he hopes everybody will stay on board with the new coaching staff.

"I will encourage them to stay here. I don't think that will be a problem whatsoever," Garner said.

One of the two players Southeast signed during last November's early signing period said he was also surprised by Wednesday's news, but won't ask the university to release him from his scholarship.

JaJuan Maxwell, a senior forward at Raytown High School near Kansas City, said, "It definitely caught me off guard. I'm disappointed, but it really doesn't change anything. I'm still planning to come there."

Roderick Pearson, a senior point guard at Raytown South High School near Kansas City, could not be reached.

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