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Team Stands Behind Penders

March 23, 1998

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Texas basketball players Chico Vasquez and Kris Clack defended Tom Penders Monday, saying that despite complaints from other players they haven’t had any problems with the coach.

``As a coach, he may do something that offend the players or say something that may offend the players, but as a basketball player and a student athlete you have to take that for granted,″ said Clack, the team’s leading scorer. ``You have to know that’s going to happen. A coach has to ... make his team ready to play and get his players where they want to be and that’s all coach Penders has been doing.″

The players said Penders and other coaches say things and yell at players, but nothing unexpected.

Controversy concerning the coach began this month when standout freshman Luke Axtell and several other players complained of Penders’ treatment of them, alleging verbal abuse and his failure to develop them into better players.

Axtell, 7-foot freshman center Chris Mihm, freshman point guard Bernard Smith and sophomore forward Gabe Muoneke went to athletic drector DeLoss Dodds with their concerns March 9, the day after the Longhorns were eliminated from the Big 12 Conference tournament.

Last week, Penders announced that Axtell would be suspended indefinitely for academic reasons, including refusing to go to study hall or attend sessions with his tutors.

Later that day,Axtell, second in scoring with a 13.3 points per game average, told the Austin-American Statesman that Dodds had granted him a transfer from the school

The others players have said they are still considering their future.

``As a student-athlete, you have responsibilities,″ said Clack, a junior. ``You have to balance your grades and you have to balance what you do on the court. You have to take care of your grades no matter what.

``I’m sorry that they’re leaving. ...″

Vasquez and Clack said they hadn’t talked to Axtell or Penders before talking to the media Monday.

Vasquez, the team’s co-captain, said Axtell probably misinterpreted Penders actions.

``You have to take it as encouragement,″ he said. ``As a player you have to understand that a coach does things to make things better.″

Clack added that Axtell never indicated during the season that he was unhappy.

After Axtell’s telephone call to the American-Statesman, radio station KVET-AM read part of his student progress report, released by Texas assistant Eddie Oran.

Oran said Monday he didn’t realize he couldn’t make the information public. Federal law prohibits school officials from releasing the grades of any student without permission from the student or his family.

``I apologize if I have embarrassed Luke Axtell, our program, or the University of Texas,″ Oran said in a statement. ``It was totally unintentional.″

Texas vice provost Patricia Ohlendorf, who is investigating the release, did not return calls to The Associated Press Monday.

The Longhorns struggled to a 14-17 record and a 10th-place finish in the Big 12.

Penders is the winningest basketball coach in school history with a 208-110 record over 10 years and eight trips to the NCAA playoffs.

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