Human Interest


Well, college basketball season is about to start, and even before the first game is played, there’s trouble in Bloomington—Indiana, that is. It seems no matter how hard they try not to, some basketball players are prone to get in trouble. And it’s happened again. A blue-chip, star, freshman recruit recently had an altercation with the local police.

It seems that at 2:15 am on October 22, Bloomington Police received a call from a Taco Bell in the downtown area stating a young man was refusing to leave the drive-thru lane. He refused to move his car because restaurant employees had refused to serve him after he was rude and cursed them. He parked his car in the drive-thru, and when officers arrived, they asked him to move it. He did, reluctantly, but into a parking space in the Taco Bell lot, not off the premises. Restaurant management asked police to tell the man to leave altogether, but after being asked, he refused, leaving the windows of his vehicle closed. The man was later identified as Mackenzie Mgbako, the IU freshman basketball player. Officers repeatedly told Mgbako to leave the property, but he failed to comply for 15 minutes, and left the car windows closed the entire time.

It was then police advised him he was under arrest, and asked him to exit his vehicle. He again refused and officers, then, were forced to break the driver-side window, unlock the driver-side door, and forcibly remove him from the vehicle. He was handcuffed, arrested, and sent to jail for the night. He was accused of criminal trespass and resisting law enforcement, both “class A misdemeanors.”

So here we have potentially one of the best basketball players IU has had in 30 years, who gets arrested a week before the first game is played! This is a big deal! What is Coach Woodson supposed to do about that? This young man passed up going to Duke to go to IU, and now Bloomington Police arrest him before he plays one second of basketball, and Taco Bell employees refuse to serve him. 

I can tell you what Bob Knight would have done, because there’s a long list of instances where players transferred from IU voluntarily or were involuntarily dismissed from the team as disciplinary punishment doled out by Coach Knight. Mackenzie Mgbako probably would be looking for a new team. Coach Woodson, on the other hand, has chosen to give Mgbako a second chance, and permit him to play in their exhibition game Saturday night. 

Woodson may have some empathy for Mgbako because he experienced a Coach Knight-issued rebuke and suspension himself after a 1978 incident. In the Fall of that year, Indiana had played in a tournament in Alaska. During that trip, someone obtained marijuana and 8 of the players sat in a room and smoked it. When Coach Knight learned of the incident he dismissed three players (Don Cox, Tommy Baker, Jim Roberson) from the team immediately and placed the  other five on probation. Mike Woodson was one of those five who was given a second chance. At the time he was the second leading scorer on the team. Leading scorer, Ray Tolbert, and freshman star, Landon Turner, were two of the others. 

Before I researched the above incident, I was sure Woodson would boot Mgbako off the team! But then I thought, he’s been a coach for all sorts of characters for more than 20 years. He’s played with every imaginable personality, ego, and behavior type and should know the human nature of big-time athletes very well. An NBA coach deals with narcissists, prima donna’s, and  people who are downright difficult to get along with, and success comes from knowing how to handle them and still get the best out of them. Surely, he has dealt with players in trouble with the law on many occasions and should know the best course of action to take. At least I hope so. 

I’m hoping his decision to allow Mgbako to stay with the team and play in the exhibition game comes from experience dealing with similar situations. His judgement has been honed by eleven years as a player and 17 years as a coach. One doesn’t last that long in those positions without gaining wisdom and developing good judgement. 

So, even though my principles would come to a different conclusion, I’m willing to trust Coach Woodson and go with his decision. Indiana needs Mgbako to win, but if his behavior on the court and especially, off the court, exhibits deeper problems, he becomes a liability. His indiscretions become a distraction that captures public attention more than the 20 points per game he scores. I hope that doesn’t happen.

**ADDENDUM: Mgbako played Saturday night scoring 14 points and leading both teams with 8 rebounds in 25 and a half minutes of play.

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  1. Don’t care much for that kind of attitude. Being disrespectful of law enforcement is NOT acceptable. I say do the best you can without him. Let someone else give that 2nd chance and see how that works for them. I think we put to much emphasis on WINNING.

  2. Don’t care for the attitude athletes. Let him get his 2nd chance somewhere else and see how that works for them. I think schools and coaches put to much emphasis on winning. He has disrespected law enforcement officers. He should be made to spend a few nights in jail then apologize to the offericers. Let him go.

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