Less than 24 hours after a verbal confrontation with his head coach that caused Darian Townes to be sent to the locker room during the first half of Tuesday night's 68-59 win over Tulsa, the 6-10 junior center was back in the good graces of his coaches and teammates.
So said Arkansas head coach Stan Heath at his Thursdays press conference, which previewed Saturday's game with No. 8 Alabama, but was bound to include questions about Townes as well.
Heath said he and Townes talked Tuesday night on the phone and then the player came to the UA basketball office on Wednesday morning to apologize for snapping back at his coach, who got on him after a sub-par three-minute stint.
"You guys see that scowl, but I saw a kid in my office that is carrying a lot of emotional things with him," Heath said. "At the same time, he was heartfelt, he was embarrassed and his heart cried out like ‘I don't know what happened.' He was disappointed and he apologized to his teammates and apologized to his coaches.
… In his mind, he can't believe he did it," Heath said. "He can't believe ‘I snapped like that.'"
Heath said that he learned Wednesday of some off-the-court personal issues that had been troubling Townes, who is averaging 7.5 points and 3. rebounds this season after being named to the SEC All-Conference preseason second team.
"He is really disappointed and embarrassed about it," Heath said. "So I don't want you guys (the media) to beat him up. He is not a bad kid. He is a good kid. He came back out and did the right things and practiced his butt off today."
Heath stressed again that he was the one that sent Townes to the locker room and that the player did not leave on his own.
"I jumped on him pretty good during the game, he snapped back and he just couldn't bring it back," Heath said. "So the best thing for him to do was for him to calm down and get his emotions together."
Asked if he could tell if Townes was truly remorseful or just trying to get back into good graces with the team and staff, Heath said he thought the player was genuine and so embarrassed about it that he didn't want to talk with the media after practice.
"He was really, really hurt and embarrassed about the deal," Heath said. "His heart was out there. If I tell you what he did it would make him sound a little weak so I'm not going to do that.
"He doesn't want to talk to you guys, he doesn't really want to talk to anybody about it," Heath added. "He is kind of like it is one of those phases in your life where you can say, let's just go to the next thing."
Heath said he knew he was getting an emotional player in Townes when he first signed him out of Hargrave Military Academy.
"I've known Darian for three or four years now and I know what his strengths are and what his weaknesses are," Heath said. "When he gets hot and his emotions go high, it is hard to bring them back down. I have friends like that and I know people like that.
"It doesn't make him a bad person and – in all honesty – he really is a good kid," Heath said. "I think sometimes when you see a snapshot of a kid or you see a glimpse on a TV moment or a picture, you think one thing. But when you get down to the surface of what a kid is all about, you find out that is a pretty nice kid."
But that doesn't mean Heath wants to see the nice kid snap again.
"I think we all know that Darian has so much talent inside of him and there are times we see it and times we don't," Heath said. "And so my job is try and get him to play at that level on a consistent basis. He wants that and I am going to do it and while I might choose different words, I am going to still get on him and all the guys on our team if that is what I need to do."
As far as punishment, Heath said he thinks that being sent to the locker room – and thus all of Townes' averages taking a hit – and what he will have to do other than that will be enough.
"I think that is a huge punishment," Heath said. "Where you miss a game, you don't get to play, you play about 2 minutes. It is a significant thing, but we handled some other things internally just to let him know it isn't acceptable.
"He is going try hard to temper his emotions, but at the same time we have got to know that is part of his make up," Heath said. "As a coach you've just got to wear different hats and you have different kids they carry different things inside of them and you try to work with them."
The fact that Townes had played so well in the previous game against Louisiana Tech (12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks) and then came out listless against Tulsa set Heath off.
"Let's be careful because the game before he was the player of the game," Heath said. "He had one of his best games against Louisiana Tech. He was scoring, rebounding, playing hard and doing a lot of good things. And then three minutes (into the next game) he started off slow. It's not like he has been playing poorly, he just had a moment or three minutes where he wasn't playing at the level I thought he needed to play to and I am going to challenge guys when it happens. The (Townes) response was not the way it should have been.
"…Is Darian possibly going to be blow up again?" Heath asked. "I'd say odds are yeah. Does that make him a bad person? No. It doesn't make him a bad person, it is just part of his make-up. Is that something he has got to grow out of down the road? Yes, it does. Do we have to help him? Yes, we do. "
Heath says being a basketball coach is certainly not just confined to Xs and Os.
" It is tough when you are 21 and 22 and you have a lot of stuff going on in your life," Heath said. As coaches you have to communicate with guys a lot and really talk to them outside of what is going on with basketball. Sometimes they take things on the court or in practice and you don't even know. You are thinking one thing and it is something going on three states away or girlfriend or something going on that you don't know about. "
Heath is certainly not as emotional on the sidelines and former Razorback head coach Nolan Richardson, but says he isn't as calm on or off the court as fans might think.
"That is not the first time I have every jumped on any of my guys," Heath said. "What happens inside my huddle, what happens inside my locker room, those are things that are how coaches and players deal with things.
"When people see the court and say "Coach is kind of calm and doesn't say anything" that is not absolutely right either – that is not what is going on either," Heath said. "As far as Darian I am going to continue to challenge him and I think he wants me to challenge him. For him to play his best basketball I think he needs coaches that are pushing him to be the way he can."
With Alabama coming to Fayetteville, all hands to be rowing in the same direction according to Heath.
"I told our team our whole attention is on Alabama because we need everybody on the bus and everybody moving in the same direction," Heath said.
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