Georgetown men’s basketball brimmed with optimism at the start of this season. The Hoyas returned all but one starter from last year’s 19-win team and set their sights on making a long-awaited return to the NCAA tournament in 2020. So while their 7-3 record is not surprising, the way they got there has been anything but expected.
In the past few weeks, four players have departed mid-season.
It had been an up-and-down start for Georgetown men’s basketball on the court even before things got complicated off of it. The Hoyas survived two close calls against mid-major opponents in their first two games before losing to Penn State. They traveled to Madison Square Garden for the 2K Empire Classic, beating a ranked Texas team before giving then top-ranked Duke a close battle before losing. The fanbase grew hopeful, but Georgetown inexplicably lost to UNC-Greensboro in its first game back after Thanksgiving.
That following Monday, on Dec. 2, the school announced that two starters, point guard James Akinjo and forward Josh LeBlanc, were off the team effective immediately and would be transferring.
While rumors swirled about the reason for the two players’ departure, public records revealed a temporary restraining order from the previous month filed against LeBlanc and teammate Galen Alexander relating to two complaints to police that also named a third teammate, Myron Gardner. The complaints allege sexual harassment, threats of bodily harm, and theft over two separate incidents.
Akinjo was not mentioned in any legal document, but that didn’t keep his name from being dragged in the mud as the controversy surrounding LeBlanc, Alexander, and Gardner came to light. Georgetown attempted to clarify this matter in a follow-up press release from athletic director Lee Reed.
“Yesterday, we announced that two students, James Akinjo and Josh LeBlanc, will not be members of the team for the remainder of the season,” Reed said in the statement. “Separately, allegations were reported publicly against three members of the team. The allegations do not involve James Akinjo.”
Reed and head coach Patrick Ewing said they could not comment on the status of any school investigations surrounding these allegations.
“The G we wear on our uniforms is about much more than basketball,” said Ewing, who starred for the Hoyas in the 1980s, in a separate statement. “It’s about a culture that expects the best of our players, both on and off the court. Having a strong culture is also about respecting and supporting those members of our community who come forward to report misconduct.”
The two claims were filed on Nov. 5 and Nov. 12, which led to the temporary restraining order, filed on Nov. 20. LeBlanc did not play in the season opener on Nov. 6 but was a full participant until he left the program.
“It’s rough when you lose [two] guys that helped you to be successful in the previous year,” Ewing said before the Syracuse game. “But I thought that the guys stuck together, played together as a team and did everything that we needed to do to be able to get two great wins.”
Alexander and Gardner continued playing in those two wins—on the road over Oklahoma State and SMU, who were both previously undefeated—before deciding to transfer as well. Their decisions became public the day before a Georgetown game against longtime rival Syracuse.
Alexander believes the school could have done better for him.
“I have been publicly shamed, threatened, and criminalized,” Alexander wrote in a Twitter post announcing his transfer. “I have been falsely accused and targeted by the media and my peers of crimes I did not commit … the University has allowed me to become a target and subjected to unfair treatment, with little or no support.”
Gardner’s announcement came via his lawyer in a statement provided to the Washington Post, a day after the claim against him was “mutually resolved with no admission or finding of guilt.” As part of a civil protection order that is part of the resolution, LeBlanc, Alexander, and Gardner must stay 50 feet away from the complainant. The Post also reported that D.C. police has closed investigations on both complaints with no arrests made.
On Saturday, the Hoyas defeated Syracuse to knock the Orange record down to 5-5. Their head coach, Jim Boeheim, claimed the Hoyas are a better team without the players that have left.
“They got rid of a guy who wouldn’t pass the ball to anybody and just shot it every time,” the veteran head coach said, referring to Akinjo. “Two guys really weren’t contributing at all, and another guy was just throwing the ball up all the time,” Boeheim added. “I know Patrick can’t say that, but I can.”
Ewing and his players say that they’re focused on the task at hand and accomplishing it with the players they have in their locker room. While one opposing coach may feel good about the Hoyas’ prospects, it will be challenging to go through the Big East gauntlet with just nine scholarship players and this cloud hanging over the program.
Still, Georgetown’s handling of this developing story warrants criticism around their lack of transparency and the possibility that student-athletes’ situations were not handled in the best way.
WUSA9 obtained a letter signed by 68 members of the Georgetown faculty demanding, among other things, “a review of Athletics Department and all extracurricular units’ policies,” and a clarification on the FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) stipulations which prevent the school from saying more on the matter.
“We make this statement with full understanding that the facts of recent events are still not entirely known,” the letter concluded. “We urge our students, colleagues, and administration to take seriously the need for greater transparency as a gesture of unconditional support for all our students as the procedural part of the process unfolds.”