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January 30, 2014

RMU pushing forward despite suspensions

They're calling themselves "The Crazy Eight" now.

Five starters, three reserves and one goal that hasn't changed despite one of the most difficult months in recent years.

That's what Robert Morris has to work with as it prepares for a showdown Thursday night against Bryant. Despite the yearlong suspension of Jeremiah Worthem, Britton Lee and two walk-ons, despite the absences of Mike McFadden and Desjuan Newton, Robert Morris is pressing forward with its goal of winning the Northeast Conference regular season championship, grabbing the top seed in the NEC Tournament, and winning the NEC title.

"I know that's hard, especially with the things that have been happening around here. But we're strong. We have a great coaching staff and great players. We have great leaders on this team," junior Lucky Jones said. "And at the end of the day, we're just going to go out there and continue to have fun and play basketball."

Head coach Andrew Toole confirmed Wednesday that the suspensions handed out last Friday would last for an entire year, drastically shortening the roster for a team currently undefeated in NEC play. Now, Toole said, it's incumbent upon Robert Morris to stay smart with how it uses the remaining eight players. Outside of that, nothing else changes.

"We need to stay healthy. We need to stay out of foul trouble," Toole said. "But the guys we have on the floor should be able to go out and handle what's expected of them."

The players recognize that the spotlight is on them, both on the court and off. Every team in the league has targeted RMU as the NEC approaches the halfway mark this weekend. And the suspensions have made it clear to the players that the spotlight doesn't dissipate away from the arena.

"The focus has definitely increased a lot. We have a very small margin of error right now, even just on campus," Karvel Anderson said. "We have to be smart about things we do. And on the court, we only have eight guys. So when it comes to practice or film or the scouting report and games, we have to be more in tune and pay more attention to what's going on."

Toole said it's a regular topic of conversation for all of his teams, not one that's taken place just over the last week.

"We talk to them about that all the time. There aren't many weeks that go bye that we don't' discuss how you have to conduct yourself, how you have to handle yourself on campus, in the community, in class," Toole said. "Regardless of what's happened in the last week, long before that there were a lot of eyes on our program and our players. Making the right decisions and doing the right things is something we stress on a daily basis."

Since he arrived on campus as a junior college transfer last year, Anderson has stressed how important Robert Morris' family atmosphere has meant to him. It's something he hasn't had a chance to enjoy at his other stops, and an environment he wants to continue to help foster at RMU, even with the departures.

"When you lose one of your family members, that always hurts. We think about that all the time. We still communicate with them," Anderson said. "Things have picked up since that happened. We don't want to let them down. They made a mistake and it's a mistake that happened. There's nothing we can do about it. Coach always says to worry about what you can control."

What Robert Morris can control now is its response in the face of adversity.

"Our sense of urgency has risen a lot," Anderson said. "This always is a program that has a tight knit group, but I feel right now we're more for each other than we have been since I've been here."

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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