Virginia Coach Terry Holland said today it is only "a remote possibility" that center Olden Polynice will play next basketball season even though Polynice recently decided to stay in school rather than turn professional.
Polynice has been suspended from the team indefinitely, specifically because of the shoplifting charge he faces on May 30, and also because of "the total pattern developing" with him, Holland said.
In their first news conference since Polynice was accused of shoplifting and subsequently announced his intention to go pro before changing his mind, Holland and Virginia Athletic Director Dick Schultz described Polynice as a young man "crying out for help."
Polynice declined to attend today's news conference, but he issued a statement addressing his problems. "I have been having a lot of personal problems. . . . I now see that I need to work out a lot of problems with the help of a capable counselor," the statement said in part.
Polynice, Schultz and Holland would not specify what the problems were. But the coach and athletic director clearly were referring not only to Polynice being accused of shoplifting a $16 stereo headset from a Charlottesville department store last Wednesday, but to the junior admitting he turned in another student's termpaper last year. Polynice also broke a teammate's nose in practice two months ago.
"For the first time, he's admitting he needs help with some of his personal problems," Schultz said. "He's not going to do it by himself. . . . He needs counseling to correct some of the behavioral problems that he has. . . . It behooves him to get the very best counseling he can."
At the end of December, Polynice's counselor or counselors and a university review committee independent of the athletic department will decide whether Polynice's progress is sufficient to allow him to play basketball. Even if they recommend he is ready, Holland could decide against it.
Polynice will remain on scholarship but will not be allowed to practice with the team. He will, however, be required to work for the athletic department for the entire year in an as yet unspecified capacity.
Holland and Schultz spoke to Polynice's basketball future, and both were skeptical about him playing again at Virginia.
"His chances of playing basketball at the University of Virginia again are very slim," Schultz said. " . . . People will read into that statement what they want, but his suspension is indefinite."
Holland said he told Polynice on Saturday night, "The chances of your returning to the team are fairly remote. There are a set of factors operating against you. . . . If you decide to come back to the university to finish your education, it's a good decision. If it's coming back to play basketball, it's a bad decision.' "
It seemed Polynice would avoid disciplinary action at Virginia when -- in the wake of the shoplifting accusation -- he announced Thursday he was turning professional. But Holland said, "By Friday he was in the office already and you could tell he was uncomfortable with the decision ."
Holland said he strongly encouraged Polynice to turn pro but still seek professional counseling. "I just said, 'I think you've created a situation where it would be difficult for anyone to have success . . . it's almost a hopeless situation.'
"He knew exactly what he was getting into," Holland said. "He made this decision to return to school for his long-term success as a person. I admire him for making his decision. Not many people would have done this. I think it says something positive about the youngster that he's willing to face the music.
"It's going to be a heavy burden on him. It's like saying, 'Up until now, we've assumed you were a good person. Now, you're going to have to prove it.' "
Polynice's attorney, John Lowe, said his client did not want to talk at yesterday's news conference because he wants "actions to speak louder than words." In his statement, Polynice said, "I appreciate the chance I am being given by President Robert O'Neil, Mr. Schultz and Coach Holland to get the help I need and then to earn the privilege of playing basketball. . . . I will not let them down. I will not let myself down again."
Lowe said Polynice's "aberrant behavior" led him to check with narcotic officers and other local officials to see "if there was any indication of Olden being involved with drugs. I was almost sure he wasn't. But I am tickled to tell you that from all of their sources, they said there is no shred of evidence that Olden has ever been involved in drugs. . . . "
Lowe said Polynice will begin to decide in the next few days whether he will "find a job somewhere and work" this summer or whether he will undergo counseling.
After that, there is the possibility that Polynice, who has been essentially a three-year starter, could be redshirted. But Holland said he is on schedule to graduate.
Under ideal circumstances, Polynice would have returned as a senior and a potential all-America, a strong candidate for the Atlantic Coast Conference's player of the year award and a 6-foot-11 center who could lead Virginia toward the top of the ACC.
But there have been few ideal circumstances for Polynice since he left New York City (All Hallows High School) to replace Ralph Sampson and helped take Virginia to the Final Four as a freshman.
Lowe used that backdrop to describe Polynice's mood. "His mood is somewhat like it was when he played Akeem Olajuwon and the University of Houston in the Final Four of 1984 . He knows it's an uphill battle and a tough challenge. But he's eager to get started."