Georgia athletes in legal holding pattern

ATHENS, Ga. --- As the University of Georgia Police Department continued its investigation of the roles of three student-athletes in an alleged rape on campus Monday night, the Georgia basketball team is left in a nervous holding pattern.

After Coach Jim Harrick suspended starting power forward Steve Thomas and backup point guard Tony Cole for an indefinite period of time Wednesday, the coach and players now wait to see if any charges will be filed.

One basketball player was accused of rape by a female student. A football player, Brandon Williams, was accused of attempted rape. Another basketball player was accused of being an accessory.

The alleged rape at McWhorter Hall was reported Tuesday at 1 a.m., and University of Georgia Police have investigated the incident for three days.

University of Georgia associate vice-president for public safety Asa Boynton said the UGA Police investigation was moving "with deliberate speed'' to protect the interests of all involved.

It appeared Thursday that the campus police may be ready to turn over information and evidence to the Clarke County District Attorney's office today. Then it will be determined if charges will be filed.

"From my standpoint there is a sense of urgency,'' Harrick said Thursday. "I don't know if there is for anybody else. A lot of people have a lot at stake in this.''

Thomas was a spectator from the bench during practice Thursday, just as he and Cole watched Wednesday night's 77-72 home loss to Alabama. Harrick had Cole attend a study hall during practice Thursday.

Harrick said he will not take Thomas and Cole with the team for Saturday's noon game at No. 2 Florida.

What is not known is when, if ever, Harrick can consider having his two players back in competition.

Harrick met with Georgia athletics director Vince Dooley and senior associate athletics director Damon Evans after practice Thursday.

Even if no charges are brought, Thomas, Cole and Williams would not be automatically cleared. Another part of the procedure — a hearing by the University of Georgia Student Judiciary Committee — would still await the players. The committee could take action against the students — including the power to dismiss them from the university — even if no legal charges are brought.

The possible wait for the Student Judiciary Committee to act is one of Harrick's many concerns.

Even with Thomas, who at 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds is Georgia's biggest player, the 20th-ranked Bulldogs would be big underdogs at Florida. Without Thomas and Cole, Georgia may be fortunate to just avoid a runaway route.

Without Thomas, Georgia faced a 10-rebound deficit — 48-38 — in the loss to Alabama.

Despite the lack of players, Harrick on Thursday took personal responsibility for the loss to Alabama. He said he was "in a funk all day'' before the game and said the players reflected his mood.

Before the incident Monday night at McWhorter Hall, this had been a feel-good season for Georgia, now 14-3 overall and 3-1 in the Southeastern Conference.

After big wins over Kentucky and Tennessee last week pushed Georgia into the national rankings, the accusations that two members of the team were involved in the alleged rape were particularly deflating.

"Talk about a change in emotion from one week to the next,'' Harrick said.

Charles Odum can be reached at

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