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Arkansas State players revolt; six say they won't play for coach

JONESBORO, Ark. - The Arkansas State administration said Tuesday that Nelson Catalina will remain the men's basketball coach for the rest of the season despite a players' revolt. At least six players insisted they wouldn't play, as one of them put it, "as long as Nelson Catalina is on the floor."

Eight players returned to practice Tuesday after the entire team met for an hour with athletic director Charley Thornton. On Monday, no practice was held after 13 players expressed to ASU president Eugene Smith what Smith called their "concerns about the relationship between themselves and the head coach."

Arkansas State is scheduled to play host to Louisiana Tech on Thursday.

"We have pledged to the student-athletes that we will diligently review their concerns about player-coach relationships at the end of the season," Thornton said at a late-afternoon news conference.

The coaching staff remains the same, Thornton said, and Catalina's situation will be "evaluated at the end of the season." The 39-year-old Catalina, in his sixth season as ASU coach, is completing the first year of a three-year contract.

Thornton said that only senior starters Greg Williams and Barry Mayberry were not attending a Tuesday practice that started an hour late, but four other players located at their campus dormitory while practice was in progress said they didn't intend to play for Catalina.

"We made our statement. We're sticking behind it," said Williams, the team's starting center, leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. "As long as Nelson Catalina is on the floor, I will not be there."

That sentiment was echoed by Mayberry, freshman Fred Shepherd, junior forward Dewayne McCray, redshirt freshman Joe Davis and sophomore Burnis McFarland of Dallas.

A seventh player, senior Bobby Collins of Godfrey, Ill., also skipped practice and was at the dorm but declined comment when asked if he also was refusing to play for Catalina.

"We have left the door open" until the start of practice Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. for any absent players to return to the team, Thornton said. If they don't show then? "Then they are no longer part of this basketball program," Thornton said.

Five eligible scholarship players were at practice Tuesday: junior guard Bobby Gross, the team's leading scorer with a 12.6 average;

junior forward Philip McKellar; freshman guard Brian Reaves; 7-foot-5 senior Al Bannister; and redshirt freshman Shane Compton.

Catalina said he would not use two other players who also practiced Tuesday - freshman Justin DeBies and junior Kelly Rottinghaus - because both are being redshirted. Catalina declined further comment about the situation.

Thornton said the coach appeared to be "blind-sided a little bit" by the sudden player revolt. "I think he was a little surprised that this came up," the athletic director said.

After Monday's meeting with Smith, McCray told reporters, "We be puttin' our feet down. We're tired of it.

"There's no doubt Catalina's a good coach," McCray said. "But he's got an ego problem. I'm just fed up with it. He took the fun out of the game."

Smith said Monday that the players made no demands.

"They were really interested in expressing their concerns," he said. "Basically, it's the relationship between them and the head coach.

"It goes beyond their treatment in practice," Smith said. "Their concerns they expressed are related to their total experience as a student-athlete in basketball at this campus, regardless of whether they were relatively new players or fifth-year players."

Tuesday afternoon, all of the players reportedly walked out of a meeting with Catalina when the coach told them the situation needed to be resolved.