By RJ WALTERS
Daily News Sports Editor
Published in Jan. 19, 2009 edition of the Hillsdale Daily News
Seeing Hillsdale College all-conference center Tony Gugino come off the bench Saturday was not a mirage, only a lesson in team unity from head coach John Tharp.
The chatter in the stands during the early part of Hillsdale’s contest with Northern Michigan was all about the likable big man who had started 41 straight contests dating back to the beginning of last season and Tharp gave some insight into the situation following the contest.
“We just had a little incident that we saw last game that we had to make sure we solved,” Tharp said.
According to several players the incident being referred to was from Thursday night’s home loss to Michigan Tech when Gugino became visibly upset and started yelling at some of his teammates on the bench.
“You lose a few games and you start getting frustrated. If you’re not frustrated you’re not a competitor,” senior guard Keith MacKenzie said. “Tony, he’s one of the biggest competitors I know and he got a little vocal. He’s a senior and I feel he can get a little vocal at times, but coach still sends the message we’re all together in this.”
Gugino didn’t enter the contest until the 15:39 mark of the first quarter and Tharp said he is confident his point was made and everyone is on the same page.
“We solved it man-to-man and you know what Tony needs to understand and what Keith and Evan and Skaggs need to understand is what they do effects our program three years after they’re gone because you see freshmen watching these guys and seeing how they go about their business and what they do,” he said. “So, we tell them three years out, think about that guys. What you do will have an effect on our program and so there was a little bit of a leadership incident and the bottom line is this is about Hillsdale College basketball.
“It’s not about me it’s not about Tony. We’re all in this together and we’re going to go about our business the right way and if people don’t want to go about it the right way we’re not the right program for them.”
MacKenzie said Gugino understood why the punishment was doled out.
“Tony was fine with this,” he said. “He learned a lesson and I think it sent a message to this team that we’ve still got to march forward together and we can’t point fingers at each other or do things like that.”
Gugino, the Chargers’ leading scorer and rebounder, had 12 points and 11 boards in Hillsdale’s victory.
Tharp said losing does have the tendency to create tension and it is his job to remind his players of the task at hand and how to properly conduct themselves.
“I told the guys it’s all part of the journey and the good Lord’s testing us and teams will divide or teams will unite and become stronger and that takes some leadership from your old guys and it takes everybody (having) a workman-like mentality on a daily basis,” he said.