Paul: 'I still want to play basketball at Illinois'
URBANA — Shortly after pleading guilty to underage drinking as part of a deal that saw a more serious charge of resisting an officer dismissed, Darius Paul expressed remorse for the decisions he made in the early morning hours of April 22 that led to his yearlong suspension from the Illinois basketball program.
Flanked by his parents Cliff Sr. and Lynda and attorney Steve Beckett, Paul read to The News-Gazette a statement he prepared.
“I take responsibility for my mistakes. Looking back on that night, I needed to be home. I needed to be doing what my dad and mom always told me to do — behave myself and take care of business in the right way. I want to apologize, I regret my conduct, I am sorry for putting myself and my family in this situation. I appreciate the job the police officers have to do. I've watched my dad as I've grown up. I remember when I was younger that he would have to work nights and I was worried about him. This incident shows that I overreacted to the police and the things that happened on that street. Being out drinking with friends seems like fun, but look where I'm at now. I can only hope others can see how the choices we make as students can impact our lives.
“To my Illini basketball teammates, I realize I have let you down also. I want to learn from this and take care of my personal business as my mom and dad want me to and I know I must do. I want to apologize to the coaching staff, the administration, my family, my friends and the fans. I especially want to apologize to Coach (John) Groce for the opportunity and taking me in and Coach Dustin Ford, for being my skill coach and working with me for a full year and also Mike Basgier for working with me for a full year and really trying to lead me the right way. I still want to play basketball here at Illinois.”
Paul admitted to officers on the night of his arrest that he had failed two drug tests since he arrived at Illinois after transferring from Western Michigan last summer. He sat out this past season while working out with the team to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.
“He smoked marijuana last fall. He failed two drug tests so that automatically put him in a bad light,” Beckett said. “This encounter with the police, the other thing that's going through his mind is 'Oh my God, my career is over. When Coach Groce finds out about this, I'm done.' That's another reason to run.”
Paul and his parents made clear that basketball was not the primary focus for him going forward, but dealing with any issues related to substance abuse and the ramifications of that would be.
“The coaches have been concerned. They have bent over backwards to support Darius and give us all the resources needed and anything we need from them, they're going to provide us and kind of guide us through and support us,” Cliff Paul Sr. said. “They've put basketball aside and their concern — Coach Groce is concerned about the person and the entire coaching staff made that very clear to us. They're not discarding him or anything, but putting him in position to be successful and they want him to return and that was made very clear to us in our meetings with them since last fall.”
Paul is the younger brother of former Illini star Brandon Paul, who played at Illinois from 2009-13. The Pauls all expressed a desire for Darius to resume his basketball career at Illinois, once he resolves his off-the-court issues.
“I think it is obvious we love the coaching staff. It is obvious we love the University of Illinois. It is obvious that Darius has made a mistake, he's made a couple mistakes and it's unfortunate, but we have nothing but high regards for the coaching staff, the administrative staff, (athletic director) Mike Thomas, they've been extremely supportive,” Lynda Paul said. “Our focus right now is to see what kind of assistance we can get for Darius to take care of his spirit man — that's what we're focused on, to take care of his spirit man — to get him any assistance he may need and then we will address if there's any issue with sobriety and then we will address getting his personhood situation taken care of and then we will discuss basketball.”
No plans have yet been made in terms of what Paul's path back to the Illini basketball program will be, but for now, he will return home with his parents to north suburban Gurnee.
“Since this is really fresh, this information is very fresh, we haven't really decided what we're going to do,” Lynda Paul said.
Paul said being at a new school and the added pressure of acclimating to a new environment and new teammates did not play any role in his transgressions.
"I put myself in position at certain times of the day and night. It is what it is, I made a mistake during those three infractions," he said.
Lynda Paul said perhaps the unfamiliarity of not playing competitive basketball for the first time since Paul was very young played a role in the off-the-court troubles.
"I think it was a little bit of a culmination of the sit-out year. It's very difficult when you've been playing basketball since 2 years old and competitive basketball probably since 5 and then you have to sit out an entire year with no competitive basketball, I think that probably played a role," she said. "I'm not sure how significant a role, but I'm certain it was a role. It was difficult for Mom to not watch, it certainly has to be difficult for the player to not play."