ORLANDO — Southern Methodist seniors Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy each sported diamond-encrusted AAC championship rings on their right hands.
Their flashy awards were unavoidable, just like the scandalous topic surrounding the program at Tuesday’s conference media day at the Amway Center.
A shiny, maroon mustang emblem rested among a sea of diamonds, bordered by the words “American” and “Champions” on its golden exterior.
Such a feat, however, will not be accomplished again this season for the Mustangs. Not for lack of competency, but because of NCAA sanctions imposed on the university last month.
The NCAA banned the team from postseason play in 2016, suspended Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown for nine games and took away future scholarships for multiple violations, including academic fraud.
Even if the Mustangs, picked No. 1 by coaches in Tuesday’s conference preseason poll, prove to be the best, their postseason dreams are just that: dreams.
Brown, who has been with the team since 2012, acknowledged the elephant in the room during his opening remarks on the coach’s panel, saying he was “embarrassed” by what happened.
“(These players) had nothing to do with this situation,” Brown said. “So personally, it’s been the worst time for me in terms of basketball. But, fortunately, I get to go to practice every day with a great staff and a great group of kids.”
Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie, who played for Brown as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers in 2000-01, said he believes SMU will be even more motivated to succeed this season.
“One thing I learned from Coach Brown, being around him and being in the gym with him, is resiliency,” Ollie said. “I think they’re going to be a resilient group … and they’re going to go out there play for their university. I think that’s what is the core of college basketball is all about.”
SMU seniors have been particularly helpful in setting the tone for the team, regardless of the predicament.
“It became more than just playing for the tournament,” Kennedy said. “It became more than just me and (Moore) not having our senior years, and then it turned into ‘We’ve got to show our younger kids that it’s for them.’”
Kennedy said they are playing for their younger teammates, because they want to come back and see them play in tournaments.
Although another tournament run is unattainable for SMU this season, Kennedy said they will always have their rings to remember what they’ve accomplished.
“I feel like no matter what happens, you can’t take these rings away,” Kennedy said. “You can’t take away the love that we got for each other.
“They can vacate our wins and take us away from the tournament, but when I see (Moore), and we got these rings on, to me, that means we went 27-7. That’s a great year. That’s something to be proud of.”