COLUMBIA — Columbia College coach Bob Burchard suspended junior forward Christian Lewis, junior forward Michael Aguirre, and freshman forward Jake Alexander for the remainder of the season for violating team policies, the team said in a statement Monday. The statement was released just hours before the team planned to leave for the NAIA Division I National Championship tournament.
Burchard would not specify what policies the three broke, but did say the players would not be making the trip to Kansas City for the Cougars first-round matchup with Azusa Pacific (Calif.).
“The individuals suspended have not satisfactorily met the high standards of our basketball program,” Burchard said in the release.
Lewis came off the bench for the Cougars, but had scored in double figures in eight of the Cougars’ past nine games, averaging more 10 points and 6 rebounds in that span.
“It really took away a lot of our team’s excitement,” said Trae Hall, Columbia College’s leading scorer. “We’re not bringing our full team down there, and I just felt a little disappointed, but regardless, we’ve got to go down there and play with what we’ve got.”
Hall added that the three players spoke briefly with the team, apologizing for their actions.
Together, Lewis, Alexander, and Aguirre leave a 12-point, nine rebound-sized hole for the Cougars.
“They all wish they could have played and wish they would have made the right decision,” Hall said. “Unfortunately, this happened and we’ve just got to deal with what we’ve got.”
All three players are over 6-6, and now leave the Cougars with just two players, Mikel Fields and Greg Stegeman, over 6-2. Fields said he knows the suspensions put a lot of pressure on him and Stegeman to play well, but also that he’ll need to stay out of foul trouble and keep the Cougars from being entirely overmatched. Considering Fields’ defensive game is based on his aggressive play, that could be a tall order.
“We’re just going to have to be more smart with the way we play defensively,” Fields said. “We need to make sure that any fouls we do commit are back defense fouls.”
The suspensions are the first off-the-court incident the Cougars have faced during the season, and Fields said the suspensions have come at a terrible time for the Cougars.
“I was surprised,” Fields said of his reaction to the suspensions. “I know that’s not Columbia College basketball, and I don’t think that represents who we are as a team. It was just a mishap that happened to happen at the wrong time.”