EVANSVILLE — For a program that once had a surplus of depth, the University of Southern Indiana men's basketball team recently lost about one-third of its roster in one fell swoop.
Hours before tipoff on Jan. 8, the program announced five players had been removed from the roster. Three players -- senior Tre Cunningham and juniors Myles Belyeu and Jordan Cousin -- were dismissed entirely while senior Mateo Rivera and freshman K'Suan Casey were ruled academically ineligible to compete.
It was hard for coach Stan Gouard to hide his frustration.
"If guys are misrepresenting USI basketball and the university, then they won’t be here," Gouard said. "I hate having these tough conversations with those guys. I hate it. But no one is bigger than the university or the program."
The Screaming Eagles have since lost back-to-back Great Lakes Valley Conference games at home and are now 7-4 overall and 2-3 in the GLVC.
There hasn't been any concrete reason given for the dismissal of the three players other than "a violation of USI and NCAA standards." According to USI's Code of Conduct for student-athletes, a head coach can impose sanctions for violations of rules and other team policies.
USI Director of Athletics Jon Mark Hall says he loathes to have these types of talks with students. They haven't ever been easy throughout his 20-year tenure.
"Each program has their own standards and if student-athletes don't meet those then there have to be some consequences to it," Hall said. "Nobody likes it. Nobody wants this to happen. It's a difficult life lesson."
To remain academically eligible, USI's policy requires a cumulative GPA of at least 1.8 for 59 or fewer credit hours and 2.0 GPA or better for 60-plus credit hours.
A student who fails to meet that standard will be placed on academic probation for one semester. At the discretion of the head coach, the student-athlete may still receive athletically-related aid and practice while on academic probation.
"It's not easy being a student-athlete and sometimes these things happen," Hall said. "We want to be as supportive as we can be and hopefully they can both get back on track and ultimately get their degree."
While all five players removed from the roster received playing time, none made a greater impact than Mateo Rivera.
The fifth-year senior guard had recently crossed the 1,000-point career scoring plateau and was near the top five in all-time assists and steals. Only a handful at USI has played more career games.
Now, that career is over.
This was the second time he had been suspended for bad grades as he also was sidelined for games during the 2019 fall semester 2019. Still, Gouard said he's proud that Rivera is going to continue to work hard at getting his degree.
"Mateo was a big component. He's a fine young man and I love him to death," Gouard said. "I'm happy he's going to stick around and try to graduate."
USI will work to prevent these matters from repeating in the future. There are several options provided to students on campus for academic help, from subject-based tutors to supplemental instruction and writing assistance. Academic advisors also can help students explore different majors if they're struggling.
Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not the individual is willing to improve in the classroom.
"The responsibility falls on their shoulders," Hall said. "Those resources have to be utilized. We, as an institution, want to be supportive."
USI will continue to push forward. The Screaming Eagles still have 12 regular-season games to play before postseason play begins the first week of March.
While basketball is important, Gouard wants his players to know that academics and character come first. If they aren't living up to the standards Gouard has set, then tough conversations will be had.
That's something he hopes the Eagles understand.
"It's a privilege to wear the red, white and blue. These guys have to understand that," Gouard said. "You have to walk in every day with pride that you're doing the right thing."
Contact Courier & Press sports reporter Hendrix Magley via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TweetsOfHendrix.
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Southern Indiana basketball moves forward after dismissal of players