One of the top high school basketball teams in Texas entered the playoffs on Monday night without three of its best players. At the same time, its coach and the suspended players knew that the only direction in which they could point a finger of blame was squarely at the players themselves, thanks to the rarest of sports flare-ups: A one-team, on-court brawl.
According to Houston FOX affiliate KRIV TV, the Fort Bend Independent School District in Houston suspended three players on the Fort Bend Travis (Texas) High team for one game after the three players were involved in a violent fracas between themselves during a game against Fort Bend Austin (Texas) High on Feb. 15. Senior Anthony Odunsi and sophomore twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison (Andrew is pictured immediately after the fight above) all missed the team's playoff opener against Clearlake (Texas) High, in which Travis pulled out a narrow 66-62 victory. The three could receive additional punishment now that Travis has advanced to the second round.
"The three players were suspended for three days of school and they will not be allowed to play Monday night," Fort Bend ISD athletic director Keith Kilgore told KRIV. "If Travis wins, then we are going to get together and decide what we are going to do with the three players going forward."
All three were ruled out of the first-round matchup due to a mandatory three-day school suspension, a penalty which included Monday; the day of the playoff game. Any additional punishment handed out to the suspended players would be for athletic participation only.
KRIV and other Houston-area sources reported that the scuffle started between Odunsi and Aaron Harrison, with his brother Andrew quickly running onto the floor to aid his brother. With the three players violently throwing punches at one another, other Travis players rushed onto the floor to try and separate the players, leading to their subsequent disqualification for leaving the bench area.
As a result, so many Travis players were dismissed for leaving the bench that the team had too few players remaining to complete the game, handing over a forfeit to Fort Bend Austin, one of only five losses on the season for the Tigers, who have won 29 games.
Odunsi watched Monday night's playoff opener from the stands, and told the Houston Chronicle and TexasHoops.com afterward that he realized he had made a serious mistake during the intra-team fight a week prior.
"I made a mistake," Odunsi told the Chronicle. "I learned a lot from it and I hope I get the chance to come back. No matter what, I will be here supporting this team though. They were great tonight. I am so happy they won this."
The senior also said that while he struggled sitting on the sidelines on Monday, he felt that the Travis' playoff victory would help lift the entire team going forward.
"I am very proud. They fought to the end and never gave up," Odunsi told TexasHoops.com. "They deserve it. I'm proud of those guys. It hurt, and it was unfortunate that I had to be watching from the stands, but I put all my pride aside and cheered my team on.
"We're family. We get into altercations, but that's what makes us strong. I have nothing against them. I just want to apologize to anyone who heard or saw my childish behavior. I am human, and we make mistakes. I'm glad I'm getting to learn from it while I'm young."
While the three players could return to action for the second round of the UIL playoffs, any future interaction between the three will be guarded, with Kilgore already unilaterally deciding that the three may not be allowed on the court together again this season, unless a major breakthrough is made.
"I was embarrassed and frustrated with what happened. We are not going to let those three players on the floor together again until we are sure this is not going to happen again."
While changing a team's entire lineup might seem drastic, the fight that has sidelined the three of the team's most important players was drastic, too. Considering the fact that Odunsi leads the Tigers in points while Aaron Harrison leads Travis in assists and steals, Travis fans can only hope that the three players can sit down in the same room and put aside their differences.
Whether or not that is a possibility at this point is anyone's guess. After his team won its first playoff game on Monday, Travis coach Craig Brownson told the Chronicle that he had no idea when -- or if -- the three players would be back on the court.
"Right now, the team on the floor tonight is my team," Brownson told the Chronicle. "I don’t know if we will make a decision [Tuesday], but we will talk about it."