Iona’s top returning player, forward Roland Griffin, told Stadium he has been dismissed from the team after what he alleges was a physical altercation with assistant coach Garfield “Ricky” Johns in which he punched Johns multiple times in self-defense.
According to a source close to the situation, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Johns spent nearly eight hours in the hospital on Monday after the incident. Johns suffered a head injury and didn’t return to work for the remainder of the week.
“Iona College takes all matters of health and safety seriously,” the school said in a statement provided to Stadium. “We take every action necessary to ensure the well-being of the members of our community. The College does not comment on student disciplinary matters or student information.”
Griffin told Stadium the incident occurred Monday morning around 9:15 a.m. in the locker room. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound senior said that the two have had multiple verbal confrontations over the past year, and that Johns told him to go to study hall on Monday – even though it wasn’t on his schedule.
“I had a tutor later, and wasn’t scheduled for study hall,” Griffin told Stadium. “He started yelling at me.”
Griffin said that the pair ended up nose-to-nose in the empty locker room.
“We got in each other’s face,” he said. “It was really heated. He eventually grabbed me by the jacket and tried to throw me down on the ground physically. We were against the locker, wrestling against the locker. He was grabbing me and holding me.”
“He tried to wrestle me down, and I ended up on top,” Griffin added. “I’m not going to let another man physically do that to me. I punched him four or five times, then I stopped.”
Griffin said Johns grabbed his phone and left the locker room, and that Griffin returned to his dorm room for an hour before going to the gym to shoot. Head Coach Tim Cluess then told Griffin that he needed to meet with the athletic director, and also security, about the incident. He was temporarily suspended Monday, had a hearing Tuesday morning and was informed on Wednesday that he would face a school disciplinary suspension through May 31, 2020 – which means he can’t go to class, participate in any Iona-sponsored programs or events, or be on any school property owned, leased, rented or occupied by Iona College for any reasons. Griffin will not be eligible to play college basketball when his suspension concludes at the end of 2020 – so this is essentially him being kicked out of the program.
According to a source, no action has been taken with Johns following the investigation.
When reached by Stadium, Johns declined to comment. However, a source close to Johns said that Johns told him it was Griffin who initiated the altercation.
Griffin and his mother, Fay, went to the police station and filed a report on Friday afternoon.
Griffin is from Illinois and spent his freshman season at Illinois State, where he averaged 5.9 points and 2.7 rebounds before transferring due to medical reasons. He was suspended for the state tournament at West Aurora High and also once at Illinois State.
Griffin spent his sophomore campaign at Midland College in Texas before averaging 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds last season – his first at Iona. He was picked on the MAAC’s preseason second team and was expected to be a huge part of the Gaels team this year.
Johns is a former assistant at Monroe College who joined the Iona program two years ago as the director of basketball operations. Johns played at Monroe and also played professionally overseas.