Elijah Minnie, player problems and forming a backbone

Robert Morris played a basketball game last night. Elijah Minnie and Kavon Stewart did not play in that game, due to a violation of team rules.

Stewart will play against Bryant on Saturday, per multiple reports.

Minnie will not. After the game, Toole told reporters he was no longer on the team.

Earlier today, Beaver County-Times reporter Lauren Kirschman had a fuller roundup of the whole ordeal, getting quotes from Minnie and Toole. The whole article was interesting, and I suggest reading it here, but this was a part that stuck out to me:

According to Minnie, Toole told him during the meeting that he “doesn’t think (he’s) a team player” and that he has “to be the center of attention.”
Minnie was hurt by Toole’s words and said he didn’t want to be a part of the team anymore if that’s how the coach felt. He was disappointed, too, not only in Toole’s assessment, but also in himself. He admitted he had his fair share of regrets from his two seasons with Robert Morris and took some of the blame.
“I’d definitely work a little bit harder,” Minnie said. “According to him, I didn’t work hard enough. The respect level between me and the coaches, coach to player, was pretty much arguments constantly. I wish I could change that.
“There’s a little bit of immaturity on both ends between players and coaches, including myself. I wish things could change a lot. I hate that I have regrets, but that’s fair.”

As I’m sure he wanted, Minnie comes off pretty mature and accountable in his words. Perhaps if that accountability would have been put into actions, this wouldn’t be happening.

Lost in the translation of Minnie leaving, or getting kicked off, depending who you believe, is Robert Morris lost an incredibly important game to a terrible Central Connecticut State team, 60-55. The Colonials were down by 23 at one point before a late rally couldn’t be completed.

Toole had some harsh words for his team after.

Perhaps the only positive from that game was the continual improvement from freshman guards Isaiah Still and Matty McConnell. Still finished with a team-high 19 on 7-15 shooting, while grabbing seven boards and dishing out three assists. McConnell had 13 on 5-12 shooting with eight assists and five steals.

Forward Billy Giles had 13 on 6-11 shooting.

Get used to those three names over the next year, Colonials fans. Giles is a legitimately good finisher around the rim and is arguably the teams best rebounder. Still has been the team’s best player of late. He’s not hesitant to shoot when he’s open, and he’s been attacking the basket in an impressive and efficient manner. I like that he’s not afraid to shoot the three, even if he’s not a good three point shooter (yet).

McConnell is just a beast defensively — an injured shoulder might be hindering him a little offensively, especially his willingness to drive, but it’s there. He also has a great attitude. He had some words about the way he and Still, two freshman, approach games, per this article from Chris Mueller for DK Sports (paywall):

“We just, as the players that we are, we have a higher standard to the way we play then some other people on the team.”

 This is encouraging and problematic at the same time.

On one hand, it’s great to see there are still guys on the team who value, you know, still being on the team and the chance to play college basketball.

On the other hand: what is everyone else doing?  Is there any veteran leadership?

The ship isn’t sinking anymore in Moon Township — it sank. This isn’t like last year, where talent was able to win out. At 4-7 in conference, Robert Morris is more likely to miss the NEC tournament than to win it. In fact, a loss to Bryant on Saturday would currently put RMU out of the NEC tournament.

Minnie’s departure was a statement, but a troubling one. Some people will look at Toole and staff and commend them for having a core set of values, and sticking to them. It’s Toole’s way or the highway.

However, this is the ump-teenth player to leave Robert Morris is a four year stretch. Craig Meyer of the Post-Gazette believes Minnie is the 17th player in four years to leave the program. 17! It’s been a host of different reasons. Four players were kicked out of school in 2014 for violation of university policy. Some guys quit; Stephan Bennett, Lionel Gomis, Chuck Oliver and Desjuan Newton are just a few that come to mind. Some guys are transfers who transfer without even playing (Jarius Lyles). Some are graduate transfers leaving the program (Coron Williams). Whatever the reason, 17 is too high of a number.

And that puts the program in the great conundrum. In some ways, these next few months could be the crossroads that define the program over the next few years.

Toole isn’t going anywhere. He signed a contract extension in April that runs through the 2019-20 season. Since taking voer as head coach, the team has won no less than 18 games in a season.

That’s not to say Toole, and the rest of the staff, doesn’t have some soul searching to do. I think it’s fair to say there’s been some disconnect between himself and the players. Toole is obviously a tough coach who demands, and expects, the absolute best from his players. That expectation will never change, but perhaps the manner he goes about those demands could use some fine tuning.

Players have to look themselves in the mirror too. When you come to Robert Morris, you know what you’re getting yourself into. There are expectations. This isn’t high school. You can’t act like a 14 year old anymore. if you’re playing basketball at the Division I level and don’t expect to be mentally and physically pushed, maybe D-I athletics aren’t for you.

That’s what RMU built this very program upon, first with Mike Rice and now with Toole. Velton Jones wasn’t the most talented player I’ve ever seen, but he was the toughest competitor I’ve watched in my time covering RMU basketball. He wanted to win, he wanted, he wanted to play defense and he put his ego aside to do it.The same goes for guys like Karvel Anderson and Anthony Myers-Pate, and to an extent, the guys you don’t hear as much about like David Appolon and Aaron Tate.

I’m sure the staff will look for that spark again. The foundation is still there, we heard it in McConnell’s statement. He, and apparently a few others, do seem to have that backbone. They have toughness and will. They care.

Will others follow suit?

–Chris Cappella
@C_Cappella

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2 Comments

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  1. Losing Aaron Tate hurt; Chris he was the toughness you speak of which is no where to be found. Plus, the man is simply big and likes to bang underneath. Last year his effort fueled the team defensively; Toole wishes someone was there like Tate but no one has stepped up.

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  2. The coaching staff sets the tone and environment. Toole has lost this team years ago and it just gets worse. He has had success but, in the WEAKEST conference in THE NCAA. This wouldn't fly any where else. I guess low standards start from the top

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