What now for Jon Han?
According to Elsberrry’s sources, Cooley called Han in for a closed-door meeting in which he requested that Han sign one of two papers: one stating that he was leaving the team for personal reasons, and one acknowledging that he was being suspended for the duration of the season -- and therefore his career -- for violating team policies.
Were Han to leave the team permanently (he’s served the first four games on an indefinite suspension after a public shouting match with assistant coach Brian Blaney after a loss Jan. 26 at Manhattan), it would end a career that has been full of on-court successes and off-court drama for the past three and a half seasons.
Multiple sources have told me that this isn’t the first time it appeared Han’s career would end. The point guard from Brooklyn – who, along with Greg Nero, was one of the last impact players recruited by Tim O’Toole – threatened to leave the team during the season last year and play professionally in Puerto Rico, where some of his relatives live.
I’m told those threats resurfaced last month around the time of the shouting match with Blaney, leading some to believe he was going to quit and head to Puerto Rico for the upcoming season, which begins next month.
Were he to be dismissed from the team and leave school, the National Superior Basketball League in Puerto Rico would be his most likely destination.
Cooley is expected to announce Han’s fate Monday, when the Stags will return from their Western New York trip, in which they beat Canisius Friday before losing 75-50 Sunday to Niagara.
With Lyndon Jordan, Sean Crawford and Jamal Turner splitting the bulk of Han’s minutes, the Stags won three straight after Han’s suspension before losing badly Sunday.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that his absence will benefit the Stags in the long run, since the likes of Crawford, Turner and Jordan will gain almost an extra half-season of experience they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
There’s also some validity to the argument that because Han had become a distraction and a negative influence on his younger teammates, the Stags would be better off for the remainder of this season without him.
But if Han has played his last game – and a lot of the evidence we have suggests he has – Fairfield will be without one of its best players of the last five years.
Han scored a team-high 17 points in his first collegiate game, which, perhaps fittingly given the lack of success the Stags had during his first two seasons, was a 69-64 loss to Saint Francis of New York.
From that point on, he was often the best playmaker on the court, and certainly one of the few on-the-court bright spots on a team that was bad enough to get Tim O’Toole fired after the 2005-06 season.
When Cooley took over in 2006, Han was, with respect to Michael Van Schaick, clearly the most talented player Cooley inherited and clearly the player with the biggest upside.
I’ll never forget Cooley’s first game – when I was a senior at Fairfield and covering the team for The Mirror and various daily newspapers -- for a number of reasons. In addition to the excitement surrounding Cooley, it was the Stags’ first game in Alumni Hall in six seasons.
Cooley, as most people expected, was exceptionally animated on the sidelines, often pumping in his fists and pleading with the already noisy student section to make even more noise as the Stags went back and forth with American.
It was one of the most entertaining games I’ve been at. The more I think of it, it may have been the most entertaining one involving a MAAC team until Saturday’s Rider-Siena game.
Interestingly – and ironically because of the way Cooley’s relationship with Han has soured – it was Han’s 3 from 25 feet out that sent the game into a second overtime, at the end of which the Stags lost to 59-54.
I’ve long since tossed my transcription of Cooley’s postgame remarks, but one thing I remember very well was his effusive praise of Han, who astonishingly played 46 minutes and was a major reason Fairfield almost pulled out the victory.
Han has played a major role – perhaps the biggest role of any player – in Fairfield’s progression under Cooley. That Cooley has even gone as far as he already has in disciplining Han speaks to the incredible demise of their relationship.
If Cooley announces Monday that Han is in fact leaving the team for good, it will be an unfortunate end to a career that has meant vastly different things to different people.
By most accounts, Han has been difficult to coach and difficult to play with. He’s also been difficult to defend and sometimes very hard to stop, meaning if the Stags do bid him goodbye, it will likely be with mixed emotions.