Assault case sidelines Hamline men's basketball

The wide-sweeping discipline -- one player dismissed from the team, and 14 teammates and the coach suspended -- comes in conjunction with an alleged assault after the team's New Year's Eve game in Spokane, Wash.

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The Hamline basketball team photo, 2012-13 season

Photo: Hamline University Web Site, Star Tribune

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Hamline University announced Friday it has suspended its head basketball coach indefinitely, dismissed one player from the basketball program and suspended 14 other players for unspecified lengths of time in conjunction with an alleged assault on a woman after the team's New Year's Eve game against Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash.

The St. Paul university, calling the reported assault "extraordinarily serious," also said the team will forfeit its Saturday game at Gustavus Adolphus.

Eugene Lawrence, 18, a freshman from New Orleans, was "dismissed from the basketball program and suspended from the university pending a formal hearing," the school said.

According to an affidavit filed with the Spokane County Clerk's office and obtained by the Star Tribune, an officer responded at 3:54 a.m. on Jan. 1 to a report of an assault at a Spokane hotel. The victim, Kayla Bray, 20, said she had been punched in the face by a black male with a beard identified as Lawrence. Bray was taken to a hospital, where a scan showed three facial fractures. The officer found Lawrence at the hotel and took him to the Spokane County jail, where he was charged with second-degree assault.

KXLY-TV in Spokane reported that Bray met up with Hamline player Tyler Pannell, a high school classmate of hers, after the game and gave him a ride to the hotel.

Bray's father, Steve, told the television station that Bray and Lawrence got into an argument. Lawrence then punched her, knocking her out.

After Bray regained consciousness, Lawrence and other members of the Hamline team allegedly refused to escort her to the hospital because it was past their curfew.

A university spokeswoman said there would be no further comment beyond the statement released Friday.

"After a thorough external investigation and internal review of the matter, including interviews with the players traveling with the team, we have disciplined a number of the players on our men's basketball team,'' the statement read. "One of our players is accused of seriously injuring a young woman on New Year's Eve while the team was in Spokane, Washington, for a tournament. Eugene Lawrence has been released to the custody of his parents in his home state. He was dismissed from the basketball program and suspended from the university pending a formal hearing.''

The statement went on to say that 14 students face disciplinary procedures for "student handbook violations and team suspensions of varying lengths of time for violating standards set forth in Hamline's athletic code of conduct.''

Suspended head coach Nelson Whitmore has led the Pipers for six seasons. He was appointed an assistant athletic director in September, with his duties focused on athletic department fundraising and corporate sponsorships. Hamline had not had a winning season in 14 years before Whitmore's arrival.

Over the past three seasons, the Pipers have gone 44-34 and finished above .500 each season, the first time that has happened in 26 years.

Before coming to Hamline, Whitmore coached for nine seasons at the State University of New York Brockport.

MIAC Executive Director Dan McKane said in a statement that the conference "is aware of the unfortunate situation and has worked closely with Hamline administrators. The MIAC is sending its thoughts and prayers to the victim and her family. Hamline has taken this very seriously and are taking appropriate measures."

Hamline has 18 players listed on its roster.

Lawrence played in nine games as a reserve this year, averaging nearly 13 minutes per game while scoring 32 total points.

The Pipers are scheduled to play two games next week, at home on Wednesday against St. Olaf and at Concordia on Jan. 12.

They are 6-5 this season and are tied for sixth place in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings with a 3-3 league record.

Staff writer Brandon Stahl contributed to this report.

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