Motive remains question in Archambault dismissal

The headline at the top of The Daily sports section Monday read, “Shades of `97 from U hockey, hoops.” Those words were meant to encapsulate two stories — the Gophers men’s hockey team’s sweep of Wisconsin and the men’s basketball team’s win over Michigan.
In retrospect, however, the headline was befitting of all three stories on the page. Just as the Gophers’ wins over nationally ranked opponents were a reminder of last year, so was the dismissal of men’s basketball guard Russ Archambault for violating a team rule.
Given the events since the Gophers’ Final Four appearance — namely the Courtney James’ trial, his subsequent departure from the University and Charles Thomas’ decision to transfer to Eastern Kentucky — the Archambault news was not shocking in its own right.
What has turned some heads is the manner in which coach Clem Haskins dealt with Archambault and senior guard Eric Harris. Both players, according to a published report, violated the same rule by being out past curfew the night before the Gophers’ game last week at Illinois.
While Harris was held out of the starting lineup against Illinois, he played 34 minutes off the bench and stands to face no further punishment. Archambault, meanwhile, was sent back to Minneapolis prior to the game and then kicked off the team Friday.
This discrepancy in punishment leads to two questions: 1) Were the disciplinary actions fair in relation to one another? and 2) Did Haskins have an ulterior motive in getting rid of Archambault — freeing up another scholarship for next year.
The first question seems to have a fairly easy answer. Several sources close to the men’s basketball team have said this wasn’t Archambault’s first brush with trouble.
“You know (Haskins) will always give you a second chance. I think that’s what people don’t realize,” Gophers senior Sam Jacobson said. “He’ll let you screw up once or twice, but for some players that’s where the difference comes.
“There’s been a lot of talk of why ‘E’ (Harris) didn’t get kicked off. Well, there’s a difference between Russ and ‘E.’ You get so many chances, and the chance for Eric might have been different than it was for Russ.”
The answer to the second question is — and might forever remain — a mystery. While it appears Haskins’ had enough ammunition (read: transgressions on Archambault’s part) to justify kicking him off the team, there are other factors to consider.
For starters, Archambault was upset at his lack of playing time this season and had entertained thoughts of transferring as recently as a week ago before deciding to play four years at Minnesota.
Despite Archambault’s decision to stay, his playing time didn’t figure to increase next year. Although Harris is graduating and leaving the starting point guard spot open, the Gophers have two players — LSU transfer Terrance Simmons and incoming freshman Kevin Burleson — ready to step in at the position next year.
Archambault had some nice stretches as a Gopher, but because of questionable decision-making skills, his role was mostly as a three-point gunner. Playing in that limited capacity made him expendable — something most Williams Arena faithful, and especially Haskins, could see.
But is that enough reason to believe Haskins kicked Archambault off the team so he could recruit another player during the late signing period?
Complicating matters is the limited knowledge of what Archambault’s past trouble entailed. None of the previously alleged incidents were reported, nor was he ever suspended from the team.
It is interesting to remember, though, that after James was found guilty of fifth-degree assault, he was still given a chance to return to the team after serving a one-year suspension.
It would be hasty to draw any conclusions about Archambault’s situation — and how it relates to James or any other player — without knowing all the circumstances. Those who have spent time around a basketball hoop, however, know the relative value of a strong rebounding 6-foot-8 power forward and a reserve guard without a position.
To be sure, there were strikes against Archambault, and because of that Haskins had a reason to kick him off the team. But whether Haskins dismissed Archambault because of his transgressions or his lack of production might never be known.
— Michael Rand is the sports editor at The Daily. He welcomes comments at [email protected]