NEW YORK — Due to a player “mutiny” against head coach Mike Anderson, the St. John’s men’s basketball team pulled out of last season’s NIT tournament while the school disingenuously claimed COVID-19 protocol concerns as the reason for opting out, a new lawsuit alleges.
Former assistant coach Steve DeMeo, who was fired in June, detailed the chaotic end to last season in a wrongful termination and discrimination lawsuit filed Thursday in Brooklyn. Anderson, according to the suit, decided to banish forward Isaih Moore from the team following an in-game argument over his shot selection.
When Anderson announced Moore’s dismissal during halftime of their regular-season finale against Seton Hall, the players said they’d boycott the second half, the suit states. Anderson relented but two days later tried to boot Moore from the squad, only to again back down because players refused to practice, according to the suit.
The school then rejected an invitation to the NIT tournament and St. John’s AD Mike Cragg released a statement pointing to “the tremendous mental and physical demands on everyone in our basketball program due to extensive COVID-19 protocols.”
“In truth,” the lawsuit states, “having refused to play for Mr. Anderson twice in three days due to what it believed was his vindictive and unfair treatment of Mr. Moore, the team simply did not want to play for him anymore.
“St. John’s stated reliance on COVID-19 was merely a false excuse to protect Mr. Anderson and ensure that the public was not made aware that the supposed 'Coach of the Year' had completely lost the respect of his team.”
Anderson, 61, was named the Big East’s Coach of the Year following their 16-11 showing last season. He was rewarded with a six-year extension that the lawsuit alleges is worth $20 million.
In the aftermath of the alleged rebellion against Anderson, seven scholarship players transferred from St. John’s. Moore, who averaged 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in 25 games, transferred to Southern Miss. However, the team retained its two best players — Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander.
DeMeo, who recently joined Eastern Carolina as an assistant, claims he was fired because of a life-threatening heart problem that required multiple surgeries last year. After informing Anderson that more medical procedures were coming, Anderson “callously fired Mr. DeMeo,” the lawsuit states.
DeMeo, who also alleges the Red Storm were lax on COVID-19 protocols, was unable to meet in close contact with unmasked players during a pandemic because the heart ailment left him immunocompromised.
DeMeo, a Queens native, has previously been an assistant at Iona, Hofstra and Providence.
Asked broadly about the lawsuit, which lists Anderson and St. John’s as defendants, the school responded, “St. John’s University and Coach Mike Anderson categorically deny Steve DeMeo’s allegations of wrongdoing, but cannot otherwise comment on pending litigation.”©2021 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.