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Ex-Students Suing Rutgers, Coach

November 30, 1999

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Three former Rutgers’ basketball players filed a civil rights lawsuit Tuesday accusing the coach of making them do wind sprints naked during a practice.

The three agreed to shed a piece of clothing for every missed free-throw shot at the 1997 practice, but they said they expected it would stop at undershorts.

``Well, I thought it was funny when we were taking free throws ... but no one was laughing at the end,″ said Earl Johnson Jr., a sophomore player at the time. ``We didn’t want to do it.″

The suit, filed in Superior Court, said coach Kevin Bannon allowed other players to skip free-throw rounds or replace clothing. He rigged the contest against players and student managers recruited by his predecessor, Robert Wenzel, the lawsuit said.

Bannon threatened grueling drills for the entire team if the group didn’t cooperate, said Richard M. Winograd, the lawyer for the three.

Specifically, the suit charges violation of the state’s discrimination law, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy.

Only one of two managers involved, Juan Carlos Pla, joined the lawsuit. Pla, Johnson and 7-foot center Josh Sankes left Rutgers after the 1997 season.

``This was a humiliating experience,″ Winograd said. ``It served no useful purpose whatsoever, and it should not have happened.″

The school believes the suit is ``without legal merit,″ Rutgers counsel David B. Scott said.

At the time, Bannon called the episode a ``lighthearted contest″ and insisted, ``Absolutely no one was forced to remove his clothes or to run.″

The lawsuit against Bannon and the school seeks unspecified damages and a court order assuring that Rutgers prevent any similar conduct in its sports programs.

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