Redshirt junior center Eric McKnight, a starter for 34 of the team’s 37 games last season, will be suspended the first six games of this season for an undisclosed violation of team or school policy, The News-Press has learned.
“Eric’s disappointed. I think he’s disappointed in himself,” said first-year FGCU coach Joe Dooley, who cited student privacy laws in not disclosing the reason for the suspension.
“But he’s been outstanding in regaining his status on the team. He’s grown up as much as any kid I’ve been around in a short period of time. He’s trying hard. … I’m convinced he’s learned his lesson.”
Of the cause of the suspension, Dooley said, “This happened before I got here.”
An assistant coach at Kansas the past 10 seasons, Dooley was hired in mid-April to replace former coach Andy Enfield, who took the job at USC after leading FGCU to the Sweet 16 last year.
FGCU did not make McKnight available for comment.
FGCU’s first six opponents are Nebraska, Hartford, Furman, Eckerd (Division II), Ave Maria (NAIA) and N.C. State. The N.C. State game, Nov. 26, is in Raleigh, McKnight’s hometown.
McKnight will be eligible to return to competition Dec. 1 at home game against Iona, an NCAA tournament participant last season.
McKnight’s suspension will be his second at FGCU. The former Iowa State transfer did not travel with the team on a three-game exhibition swing to the Bahamas prior to the 2012-2013 season because of what also was called an undisclosed rules violation.
Dooley said the length of the upcoming suspension was determined by the athletic department.
The 6-foot-9 McKnight has been practicing with the team throughout the fall. But redshirt junior center Nate Hicks, a transfer from Georgia Tech who becomes eligible this season, has been playing extensively with FGCU’s likely starters, partly in preparation for McKnight’s absence, Dooley said.
“From a conditioning standpoint, he’s got to do it,” Dooley said of the 6-10 Hicks logging major minutes.
Dooley said 6-8 senior forward Chase Fieler will have to spend time at center in McKnight’s absence, and 6-7, redshirt-junior walk-on forward Marcus Blake also “is going to have to buy us some minutes.”
McKnight’s absence further thins a roster that includes four ineligible transfers, three on scholarship.
McKnight, who averaged 6.5 points and 4.4 rebounds a game last season while splitting time at center with then-senior Eddie Murray, is one of only nine eligible scholarship players on the roster this season.
One of those players, 6-7 freshman forward Logan Hovey, continues to miss practice time with early signs of a stress fracture. Junior forward Filip Cvjeticanin, a 6-9 wing, won’t play center, Dooley said.
“It’s not ideal, but it is what it is,” Dooley said. “It’s a situation we’ve got to handle and get (McKnight) back for game seven and get after it. We’ll get after it the previous six games, too.”