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Willis incident puts onus on Kruger, Rebels

You can’t minimize the charges. Felony domestic battery by strangulation. Felony grand larceny. Misdemeanor coercion.

You can’t hide serious stuff, the kind that, if proven true, should make Tre’Von Willis far more concerned about his freedom than basketball career.

Pause and take a deep breath.

It’s needed for now.

The decision whether Willis will play another minute for UNLV won’t be difficult if he is guilty of the charges brought forth by a 28-year-old woman from Henderson that led to the player’s arrest Tuesday. If so, he should be dismissed from the program quicker than a student manager can clean out his locker.

You could argue even if the charges are reduced or a plea agreement results in the case, UNLV should think twice about allowing Willis to return for his senior season. Programs without structure and discipline and purpose and standards and organization aren’t programs at all. Just factories producing labor on the court.

Perception is everything. It always is.

If you thought people were watching closely when an assistant football coach (Ty Gregorak) few knew ran amok of the law, that’s nothing compared to the best player on a UNLV basketball team destined for a preseason Top 25 ranking being arrested on felony charges.

Not in this town.

Not with this program.

Truth is, there is most of regulation and perhaps an overtime period remaining before anyone learns what the truth is when it comes to Willis and Skye Sanders, the woman who has accused him of attacking her.

Due process still exists. Willis deserves to be heard and fairly judged.

Somewhere between the two sides, reality lives.

Sanders has had her own past legal issues and offers more than a flamboyant MySpace page, none of which means anything if Willis did what the charges suggest.

But the police report states Sanders refers to Willis as her boyfriend, yet neither are friends on their Facebook accounts. There is definite drama going on here, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if more than two parties are involved.

This thing could be over before it begins. Charges like these are awfully tough to stick at times.

This also could drag out for some time.

“We don’t know what happened yet,” UNLV coach Lon Kruger said from a vacation he is scheduled to return from today. “We’re always looking for our guys to represent each other and their families and our athletic department well. That’s a priority for us that will never change.”

Kruger said he had not spoken to Willis as of Tuesday afternoon, and a statement from athletic director Jim Livengood offered the standard response of being aware of the situation and it being “inappropriate to comment until the matter has been resolved through the judicial process.”

No indefinite suspension of Willis was mentioned, but, well, what in the world would they be suspending him from in late June, anyway?

What this does is shine a light on Kruger like never before in his six seasons as UNLV coach. Never has he had to publicly face his best player, one who could mean the difference between a deep NCAA Tournament run or no NCAAs at all next season, in this sort of trouble.

This is a big story because of who the player is, and anyone who doesn’t understand that needs a tighter grasp on reality. This isn’t the same as knuckleheads like Marcus Lawrence and Matt Shaw either driving under the influence and wrecking a car or failing an NCAA-administered drug test.

If it’s true Kruger has lacked the showmanship and gaudy personality often expected of his position at UNLV, he has brought a sense of off-court respect to the program as compared to back in the day, when a story such as this likely would have offered the following headline: “UNLV star arrested on felony charges — see Page 8A.”

But the more UNLV basketball makes news for matters such as this and one that got Shaw suspended for his senior season, the more that sense of respect diminishes.

At best, Kruger’s players need to grow up, and someone out there, presumably the head coach, needs to offer a more stringent policy on how this team should conduct itself and represent the program away from the court.

It’s quickly going from laughable to stupid to absurd.

At worst, that which is charged against Willis proves true, and we are talking a whole different level of wrong for a player in the Kruger era.

I don’t know what happened at 3 a.m. Tuesday in a Henderson apartment. Few do. I don’t know how true any of the charges against Willis are. There is much of regulation and perhaps OT remaining.

Pause and take a deep breath.

It’s needed for now.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618.

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