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UNLV’s Rice must not quit on Goodman

A story that bears repeating: It was several years ago when I found myself at a friend’s party, which the local Division I head football coach also attended. It was an off week for his team, and he spoke about one of his anxieties:

“You never know when the phone might ring on a weekend. You’re talking about over 100 guys and the trouble that can find them and vice versa. You have no control of the situation and that’s the hardest part for coaches, because we want to control everything. You just hope and pray they make good decisions.”

It’s the same in basketball with 12 to 15 guys.

Savon Goodman is responsible for his own actions, an adult at 19 and every bit capable of knowing right from wrong. That the UNLV player will miss the coming season due to his impending arraignment on first-degree felony charges of burglary and grand larceny and a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to commit burglary falls directly at his high-tops.

His issue. His stupidity. His alleged unlawful actions.

His problem, and it’s a big one.

But how the Rebels handle him from this moment forward shifts the focus to third-year coach Dave Rice and the disciplined, accountability first-and-foremost type of program he has claimed is his intention to build.

Rice announced Saturday that Goodman won’t play during the 2013-14 season but that he expected the sophomore forward to attend classes when they begin today. He hasn’t yet decided if Goodman will practice with the Rebels.

Either way, he is keeping the player on the team for now.

Rice on Sunday evening was scheduled to speak with Goodman face-to-face for the first time since the charges were made public, a sit-down that likely got to this point quickly: In May, when the alleged crimes took place and rumors connecting Goodman to them circulated, did he lie directly to Rice’s face about any involvement?

“I don’t know the answer to that yet,” Rice said Sunday afternoon. “Myself and (senior associate athletic director for compliance) Eric Toliver both talked to him at the time and he said there was absolutely no validity to the rumors. From the start of the recruiting process, I talk to players about the importance of telling the truth at all times. I will never lie to them and I expect the same in return.

“It would certainly concern me if he wasn’t (truthful) with us, but I can’t get in the mind of someone who says what they say. I just know that from Day One, we stress with our guys to always be honest, no matter what happens. It’s critically important the (coach-player) relationship is built first from trust.

“The only decision I have made as of right now is that Savon unequivocally will not play in games this season, but I certainly reserve the right to do more as we continue to gather information.”

There are different roads he can travel.

If he confirms Goodman lied about being involved, no one should blink if Rice immediately dismisses the player from the program and washes his hands of the entire mess. Some missteps can be tolerated, but lying to your head coach about anything — much less a matter as serious as this — is inexcusable on every level.

It would be a difficult hurdle to scale for any coach, getting beyond the fact one of his players could so easily deceive him.

And yet in the big picture of building a program and educating young men and guiding them to hopefully becoming responsible, productive members of society, kicking Goodman out now would be the worst thing Rice could do.

The legal system will determine Goodman’s fate on all charges. If he indeed made his bed by breaking the law, he needs to lie in it and serve whatever punishment is handed down.

But everyone is 19 once. I was. Lied more than once, too. Became afraid of what might happen if I told the truth to authoritative voices.

Panicked more than once.

Deceived others more than once.

Rice has recruited players with baggage, but said Goodman’s background included none until now. What good would it do to cut him loose and send him back to Philadelphia, where he was raised by an aunt and had no real parental guidance to speak of?

What chance might he have without an education and basketball?

If he lied to Rice, Goodman should be punished even further than missing a season’s worth of games. He should also be told, in no uncertain terms, any such future moments of deception will indeed purchase him a one-way ticket home.

But as much as Rice and all college coaches are paid money to win games, their mission should also include producing good people and citizens.

Sometimes, the toughest thing to do is not give up on another.

It’s the road Rice should choose now.

“It’s critically important — for our team, our program, our university, our community — that our players conduct themselves in a manner we can all be proud of,” Rice said. “I think it’s important Savon focus on other priorities, so I’m taking the basketball part out of it. It gives me an opportunity to help a young man grow up to be not only a good player, but a good person.”

Tell you what — that’s as much about being a head coach as any X or O the man could draw.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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