Cougars' Bobby Cremins steps down, takes medical leave of absence

Mark Byington (left) will coach College of Charleston after Bobby Cremins stepped down Friday during his sixth season at the school.

The reaction to Friday's announcement by the College of Charleston that men's basketball coach Bobby Cremins was taking a medical leave of absence was stunning and moved quickly.

Cougars director of athletics Joe Hull, who first learned of Cremins' decision in an 8:30 a.m. phone call, said he hoped to keep things under wraps until the players could be informed at a 3:15 p.m. practice. But by 1 p.m., the campus was abuzz with the news based on Twitter reports.

Junior point guard and team captain Andrew Lawrence said he first heard about Cremins' decision in a text from his parents, who live in London.

"They have a Twitter account and I don't. They wanted to know what was going on," said Lawrence, whose father Renaldo played for Cremins at Appalachian State.

Standing on George Street shortly after 1 p.m., junior guard Bart Benton asked what was going on. He had gotten word from teammate Jordan Scott, who also had seen the tweets after getting out of class.

"I've been trying to find out what's happened," Scott said. "After (Thursday) night's game, he was the same old Bobby. He was in a good mood and focused on the next game, the way he always is. I'm kind of shocked."

Sophomore forward Trent Wiedeman said he didn't find out for certain until the team meeting. He had heard earlier but didn't know whether to give the news any credibility because it came from Twitter.

"It shocked me," Wiedeman said. "My first reaction was worrying about Coach Cremins' health. I really hope Coach Cremins is OK. I wish there was a way we could contact him and show our support."

Asked if he had noticed any changes in Cremins in recent weeks, Lawrence said the coach appeared the same in practices but may have been a little more mellow.

"He was very upbeat," Lawrence said. "He told me he was tired, but that was the whole year. It wasn't the last few games."

Hull said he and Cremins had conversations about the future, but Cremins' call was a shocker. He said no decisions on the future will be made until he and Cremins have further conversations.

"I think it's fair to say (for the team) that the goal at the start of the year was to be champions of the Southern Conference and go to the NCAA tournament," Hull said. "While the last couple of weeks haven't gone exactly the way they wanted, my guess is that's still the goal. I don't see any reason why that isn't feasible. I'm sure these guys think that's what they're supposed to do."

Mike Young, the head coach at Wofford, today's opponent, said during an early afternoon shootaround at TD Arena that health was the most important thing.

"Winning and losing, good and bad, nothing matters more," Young said. "I just want what's best for him, and if it's a health issue, that's first and foremost. I'm sure this college community and his team understands that.

"We all go through tough things. They've still got a really good basketball team. We've all suffered through the injury thing, but we've got nine games to go in our league. This College of Charleston team is still incredibly capable of winning this conference. There are so many things to play out."

The consensus among players and others associated with the program was best wishes for Cremins, and they welcomed associate head coach Mark Byington in his new role as interim coach.

"He's a great coach. Last year he was named the top assistant coach in the SoCon, which he definitely deserved," Wiedeman said. "He really knows the game of basketball. He lives and breathes basketball. He's always watching films and drawing up plays. He's a really good coach, and we have a lot of faith in him."

Senior forward Antwaine Wiggins, who said he was caught off-guard, said everyone wants to see Cremins healthy and the team has trust in Byington.

"He's been with Coach Cremins ever since he's been here. We definitely respect him. He knows what he's talking about. He's played the game," Wiggins said. "We know he can get the game done and we're going to do everything we can to help him get the job done.

"He's got a great personality. He's a cool guy. He's young and you can connect with him."