If you’re wondering what the final straw looks like, you’d have found it near the intersection of Coal Ave. and Broadway Blvd. in Albuquerque early Sunday morning.
It was there that Carlton Bragg was put into handcuffs and carted off to jail after cops pulled him over for suspicion of driving while intoxicated and possession of marijuana.
Along with him likely went an NCAA Tournament berth for the Lobos, as well as any shot at erasing half a decade of irrelevance for a program that, until this season, was stuck in neutral.
Fool us once, Carlton, shame on us. Fool us twice, shame on you.
Third time? Adios, buddy boy.
The time finally came for the University of New Mexico basketball team to say goodbye to the man in the middle, the troubled 6-foot-10 center who arrived on the Lobos’ doorstep with a world of potential and a boatload of issues.
Kudos to head coach Paul Weir for doing the right thing and kicking him off the team Sunday night.
A DWI just hours after Saturday’s game was bad enough. Doing it while there’s an active investigation into Bragg’s alleged attempt of criminal sexual penetration is quite another.
He dodged a bullet when UNM lifted his suspension stemming from that possible assault. He should have been grateful and contrite, humbled at another chance to prove himself to a fan base that had given him a warm welcome.
Instead, he chose the path of self destruction. According to police, he had a few drinks, climbed into his car, got caught with a small amount of weed in his pocket and, in so doing, gave himself the heave-ho. If he wakes up Monday morning looking for someone to blame, he can start by looking in the mirror.
To the fans, it basically comes down to this: Bragg’s exit essentially ends what looked like a promising season for a team with more talent than it’s had in years.
To Bragg, it should be a wake-up call that hopefully serves as the kick in the butt to finally get his life under control. Feel bad for him if you want. In truth, he’s got issues that are bigger than basketball and for that, wish him well.
But make no mistake — he deserved what he got. He’s a 24-year-old man who was given one opportunity after another, given a platform to right his wrongs, to get in shape and build a platform from which he could launch a career as a professional basketball player.
He was lucky to have people rally to his side and do everything possible to provide the tools he needed. UNM’s support staff got him in the classroom and helped him graduate. His coaches helped him shed roughly 20 percent of his body weight, turning him into a lean and athletic monster.
He became a double-double machine, a player who protected the rim on defense and the athlete who dominated the post on offense. What’s more, he was known as an energetic, polite and playful personality who was easy to root for.
He also couldn’t stay out of trouble. Ultimately that’ll be his legacy, it’ll be what everyone remembers about a player whose promising college career came to a premature screeching halt.
What he really needed was a babysitter, something Weir shouldn’t have to be. He needed someone who could lord over his every move and tell him right from wrong, something the coaches entrust the players to do themselves.
What Bragg got was the freedom to make up his own mind and because of that, it’s time to say goodbye to someone who picked the wrong path too many times.
If anything, let it serve as a cautionary tale about players like him. A product of the transfer merry-go-round, he came to UNM with baggage. You don’t jump from one school to another — or, in his case, to a third — without a few skeletons.
He’d burned bridges at Kansas and Arizona State, he’d fathered a child, he’d gained weight and was out of shape. He’d gone from McDonald’s All-American to forgotten commodity in a mid-major conference.
Therein lies the risk of building a team using the transfer portal. Created to empower student-athletes with the freedom to market themselves to suitors without the need to seek permission to leave, it has become a one-stop shop for coaches looking for experienced talent with ready-made Division I talent.
Some players are like powder kegs stored next to the kitchen stove while others are guys you’ll never hear a peep out of.
It all leads down to this: In the consumer-driven business that is D-1 college athletics, it’s impossible to justify why Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public should plunk down $30-$40 a seat in the lower bowl to watch a team that’s as troubled as it is talented.
Some of those players down there just aren’t worth the price of admission no matter how much you want to root for them.
Fact is, you just never know until you know.
In Bragg’s case, now you know.
Will Webber’s commentary appears regularly in this section. Our beat writer for UNM athletics, he’s covered sports in New Mexico for nearly a quarter century. To reach him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.