Crystal River boys basketball coach Tony Stukes confirmed Thursday that guard Chris Bunch and forward Chianta Smith, both senior starters, have been dismissed from the squad because of what Stukes described as "team-related" issues. The coach declined to comment further.
Neither player has been suspended from school.
Bunch was a Times first-team All-Citrus/Hernando pick last season. Smith was honorable mention. Current statistics were unavailable, but Bunch was an exceptional defender and a productive scorer. Smith was dangerous because of his ability to score from inside and out.
Bunch said Thursday that he believed his dismissal was the result of him missing Monday's practice. He said he had to leave town that day to appear with his church choir in St. Petersburg.
Bunch said he tried to reach Stukes last weekend to tell him he couldn't make it Monday. But when that failed he asked a teammate to inform the coach. Bunch found out Tuesday at school he was not on the Pirates' travel list for their game that night in Clermont.
"I went on home after that," Bunch said. "When I got to school the next day, somebody on the team said, "Coach Stukes told us after the game Chris and Chianta would no longer be with us.' I was shocked."
Bunch said he and Stukes previously had a good relationship, but confessed the coach had suspended him for a game earlier this season for leaving the court during a game. Bunch said he has yet to talk to Stukes, but might request a meeting with the coach or principal Stephen Myers.
"Me and Coach Stukes were tight," Bunch said. "I've never had any problems with him. I still have no problem with him."
Smith could not be reached, but his mother, Angela Smith, said she thought there might have been a communication breakdown.
"They just don't see eye to eye," she said. "To me, that's what it looked like."
Both players hope to play college football. Each was all-area last fall.
"I'm afraid of what (college) coaches will think," Bunch said. "I don't want my name on the street."
Bunch also is one of the state's top track performers. He placed second in the 400 meters at the 2003 Class 2A meet. He said he still plans to run track this spring.
The Pirates (4-11 before Thursday's game against Hernando) have seven regular season games left and play at Citrus tonight.
"It has been a little frustrating having to go through this," Stukes said. "But the kids with us have worked hard and have given 100 percent. It's always tough (to dismiss players). But you've got to look out for the team."
Senior guard Jason Bruns now becomes the main man. Bruns, who averages 14 points and six rebounds, is one of the county's top outside shooters.
"We're going to have to play a different style now," Stukes said. "It'll be a little more slow-placed."