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March 8, 2011A cloud has been hanging over the University of Washington men's basketball team for the past two months.
Tuesday morning, the troubles came to light publicly as senior point guard Venoy Overton was charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor and was suspended from the team.
The charges stem from early January when a 16-year-old girl accused Overton of sexual assault. No felony charges were filed in the case because the judge deemed it to be consensual. At the time of the allegation, Overton wasn't named but coach Lorenzo Romar acknowledged publicly that a player was under investigation.
On Tuesday, the misdemeanor charges were filed and the team suspended Overton for the Pacific-10 Conference tournament this week. He will still be practicing and traveling with the team. If the Huskies make the NCAA tournament, Overton will play, according to Romar.
"He will participate beyond the Pac-10 tournament if we're invited," Romar said.
The entire ordeal has been taxing to Romar, calling his ninth season with the Huskies "the toughest year since I've been the coached here."
The Huskies (20-10) were preseason favorites to win the Pac-10 regular season title and started the season 12-3 overall and 4-0 in conference play.
The Huskies have faced other obstacles, including the loss of starting point guard Abdul Gaddy to a season-ending knee injury. But since the Jan. 8 incident involving Overton, the team is 8-7.
Some team members thoughts the matter had reached its conclusion a month ago when the King County prosecutor's office announced that no felony charges would be filed against Overton on the sexual assault allegation.
"I don't know how the law works," junior guard Isaiah Thomas said, " but once they said he wasn't charged for what had happened, I thought it was over."
Romar did, however, address the matter with Overton before Tuesday's charges.
"There have been some internal dealings with Venoy that I won't go into," Romar said, "but I did not want to outwardly discipline twice. I wanted to wait for this process take its course."
The decision to hold out Overton from the conference tournament comes from Romar's hope that it can make Overton a better person in the future.
"What's important is there are consequences, but also for behavior to change," Romar said. "We have to grow from these things and learn from these things."
Although Washington has struggled to win basketball games, Romar said there have been many contributing factors.
"It starts when you have to look your player in the eye when the doctors tell him you can't play basketball anymore in the case of [db]Tyreese Breshers ," Romar said. "You're there with Abdul Gaddy when they tell him he's done for the year.
"It starts way back then and goes on and on."
The loss of Overton comes at a time when he was playing his best basketball of the season and the team was starting to lean on him more often. That doesn't mean Overton's teammates are going to get down on him.
If found guilty, Overton could spend up to a year in jail.
"I can't be mad at him," Thomas said. "He knows he did wrong. He knows what was at stake. But you know, people make mistakes and people deserve a second chance."
With their recent struggles, the Huskies' NCAA tournament hopes are in the balance this week at the conference tournament. Washington faces Washington State Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Without Overton in the lineup, it becomes a bigger challenge for the Huskies, but Washington will have to tread on without him.
"I know guys love their teammates and, to know they're going to battle without him on the floor, that'll make it tough," Romar said. "But, we have to go on."
Starting with the Cougars. Tip-off is set for 8:40 p.m. Thursday at the Staples Center.
"Even though we have all of this, he (Romar) stays positive and knows the talents we have and still believes we do have a chance to make this season memorable," senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning said.
No matter what happens in the coming weeks, this Husky team will be remembered. The question will be if they are remembered for their problems or overcoming them to make a run in the NCAA tournament.