- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Tuesday, as blog brother from another mother Diamond reported, UNLV guard Tre'Von Willis' case was resolved. And, for Mr. Willis himself, what a resolution it was.
Faced with a felony charge of domestic battery by strangulation, Willis and his lawyer instead pleaded no contest to a reduced misdemeanor charge. As part of his plea agreement, Willis has to a pay a $340 fine, perform 100 hours of community service and attend counseling sessions. He also issued a public apology in a news conference at UNLV Tuesday afternoon.
As for basketball? Things are looking up there, too. Rebels coach Lon Kruger told the media that Willis would miss "at least the first 10 percent of the season." That sounded fairly harsh until it became clear what "10 percent" Kruger was referring to: two exhibition dates and UNLV's season opener. Kruger said he will use that time to decide exactly when Willis can return to action. If Willis doesn't meet Kruger's expectations, the team could decide to punish its star player further.
If I were Tre'Von Willis, I would be exceedingly happy about this outcome.
If I could afford it, I'd be sure to give my lawyer a bonus, too. Facing what appeared to be a rather serious felony charge, a protracted trial process, and possible jail time, Willis ended up with a measly fine (similar to what you'd pay for an underage drinking citation in many college towns), a good chunk of community service, and some free counseling sessions. What could have been a wasted senior season ended up becoming a measly three-game suspension, which happens to include two exhibition games -- who cares, right? -- and a season opener against UC Riverside.
There's no guarantee Willis will avoid further punishment, but as long as he maintains the apparent sincerity he displayed in his apology Tuesday, it will be hard for Kruger to keep him off the court.
“Let me put it this way: I wouldn’t recommend to my client that he accept this settlement if I didn’t think it was going to allow him to play on the basketball team, to be a star on the basketball team and have a very productive year, and be a good student; be a good student-athlete,” said attorney Steven B. Wolfson.
Willis' punishment allows him to do all that. But it is enough? Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney doesn't think so; Graney believes UNLV's reputation is on the line:
It's simple then: If the suspension of senior guard Tre'Von Willis remains at three games (laughably including two exhibitions) and he is allowed to play beginning Nov. 17 against Southeastern Louisiana, UNLV should be perceived as having a basketball program soft on discipline and not interested in making the appropriate statement for what won't be tolerated from its players.
It will be interesting to see what Kruger decides to do. Leaving Willis out of the lineup for two exhibitions, or games against UC Riverside and Southeastern Louisiana is one thing. If Kruger had five such games to begin the season, he could wait until December to reinstate Willis, and no one would blink an eye.
But on Nov. 20, in the third game of their season, UNLV will welcome the Wisconsin Badgers to the Thomas and Mack Center. It's as important as any Nov. 20 game can be: The Rebels are desperate to prove themselves worthy of an NCAA tournament bid in 2010-11, and a win over Wisconsin, even a win that early in the season, could be a nice bit of resumé fodder when it matters in March. That having Willis, the Rebels' best player, in the lineup on Nov. 20 would increase UNLV's chances of beating Jon Leuer and the Badgers is the kind of thing one doesn't really need to write.
As it stands, Kruger has set up the leverage he needs to get Willis on the floor by the time Wisconsin comes to town. But if Kruger thinks suspending Willis for two exhibitions and one regular-season game is equal to Willis' offense, he'll be the only one.