And then there were six.
It was announced late Wednesday afternoon by the St. John's basketball Twitter account that junior guard Malik Stith has chosen to leave the team. Stith plans to stay enrolled at the school and begin working in a student assistant role.
Stith, who has only played at least 20 minutes in five of the St. John's Red Storm's 23 games this season, was unable to find a role with the new group that coach Steve Lavin has brought to Queens. Coming into the 2011-12 season, it was believed that Stith would embrace a primarily leadership-driven role.
The junior guard was ironically nicknamed "Pops" by his teammates over the summer. The team that already was plagued by depth issues will be left with only six regular players for the remainder of the season.
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"For personal reasons Malik has chosen to no longer participate as a member of our basketball team," said Steve Lavin in a prepared statement. "He will instead take on a role as a student-assistant and continue working toward completing his St. John's degree."
Stith joins a growing list of St. John's players or commitments to leave or de-commit from the program. Since Lavin has taken over as head coach, Quincy Roberts, Dwayne Polee Jr., and Nurideen Lindsey (among others) have decided that the Red Storm isn't the program for them.
For the current team, Malik's decision came as a surprise. The team was told of the situation on Tuesday, the day before they suffered a demoralizing 76-54 loss to Cincinnati.
"He was one of the leaders on the team. It hurts," freshman guard D`Angelo Harrison said. "We need to step up and fill his role. We love having Malik around, but whatever the coaches want, we'll go with it."
"It was definitely a surprise. We weren't expecting it at all," Moe Harkless said after the game. "We found out [Tuesday]. Malik and I are close and we spoke. But it's not my business, so I won't say anything about it."
Though the specific reason for Stith's withdrawal may never be disclosed, there are rumblings. It is speculated that his relationship with assistant coach Mike Dunlap was affecting the guard's morale and that playing time had become an issue.
"We don't pity ourselves," said Dunlap. "Just because someone is struggling doesn't mean he isn't still a part of us. "Malik will always be part of the family. But it's a challenge."
The New York Daily News' Roger Rubin reported that Stith may seek to transfer to Division II C.W. Post to play for former St. John's assistant Chris Casey. For now, Stith will remain at St. John's.
Stith has never been an integral part of the St. John's operation, under either former coach Norm Roberts or under Lavin. For whatever reason, he decided Wednesday that he will go in a different direction.
"Coach Lavin and I have met over the past couple of days about my future," mentioned Stith in a statement. "Right now I feel that I need to do what is best for my family."