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Published: Monday, 3/15/2010

University of Toledo captains are upbeat about future

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Assistant Bob Sundvold has been named the interim men's basketball coach at UT. Assistant Bob Sundvold has been named the interim men's basketball coach at UT.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Players and coaches from 65 college basketball teams were speaking with the media about making it to the NCAA tournament Sunday night.

At the University of Toledo, an entirely different sort of news conference was being held.

UT co-captains Jake Barnett and Justin Anyijong, along with interim coach Bob Sundvold, spoke with reporters for the first time since former head coach Gene Cross submitted his resignation to the university Thursday.

Barnett and Anyijong were generally upbeat and did not convey any ill feelings toward Cross or his decision to walk away after only two seasons at UT.

"Coach Cross was a reason why I came here, among many other things why I chose the University of Toledo," said Barnett, a rising sophomore. "Would I have liked to have been coached by coach Cross for my last few years? Yeah, because I did make a commitment to him. But it's not going to happen, so I'm not going to dwell on the what ifs and maybes."

Yesterday was the first time UT athletic director Mike O'Brien was able to talk with the Rockets in person because the university was on spring break last week when he held a news conference to announce Cross' resignation.

O'Brien was not in attendance at last night's news conference.

"Mike O'Brien came and just checked up on us, seeing how everybody was doing," said Anyijong, a rising senior. "It was just a quick meeting. He let us know that the search has begun and that they're looking for the new coach, but he didn't state any names or anything like that. He also reminded us to stay with our academics and let us know how loved we are around this campus."

The Rockets finished a program-worst 4-28 this last season and were 11-53 in two years under Cross, who resigned three days after finding out O'Brien was in possession of a letter detailing Cross' alleged relationships with several different women.

One of the many accusations made in the letter, which was attributed to an Ottawa Hills woman named Dawn K. Gears, alleged that Cross had taken women with him on recruiting trips and on the team bus to road games.

While attempting to ask Barnett and Anyijong if that allegation was true last night, a reporter's line of questioning was cut off by UT athletic department spokesman Paul Helgren, who immediately shuttled the players out of the room.

Sundvold was next up at the podium, and while he did not discuss any of the allegations made against Cross, Sundvold did take exception with one of his comments.

In an exclusive interview with The Blade on Friday night, Cross said "the letter had nothing to do" with his departure and that he voluntarily made the choice to resign because he felt the time was right to step aside so he and his staff could find employment elsewhere.

"When I read [that] in the paper … [I thought], 'Hey, I got one I like,'" Sundvold said, drawing laughter. "That's the tough part because we kind of like the direction that the program is going and the young players we've got in here. We moved here two years ago, and we've enjoyed the university and enjoyed Toledo."

Sundvold added that he would like to stay on and have the "interim" label dropped from his current title.

As a 27-year veteran of the college coaching ranks, Sundvold possesses a wealth of experience, including four years each as a head coach at Missouri-Kansas City and Division II Central Missouri.

"I would love to have a chance here," Sundvold said. "The big thing is I don't know that Toledo needs to restart. The restart button happens when you bring in a whole new staff, and that's always difficult."

Instead, Sundvold would like to keep the current coaching staff together - minus Cross of course - and continue on the path to rebuilding the program.

"We've got a decent base of guys," Sundvold said. "Obviously when you win one game in your league, that brings up the old joke of 'Hey, the good news is we have everybody back, but the bad news is we have everybody back.' But I will tell you there's going to be some big improvements in these players before next year, and it's going to be fun to see. It'd be nice to keep that continuity."

Contact Zach Silka at:

zsilka@theblade.com

or 419-724-6084.



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