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"A single-punishment penal system is very unusual," says John Weistart, a Duke law professor and coauthor of The Law of Sports. "Societies have generally decided that's a bad idea—they need judges accustomed to making hard choices that have dire consequences. At Virginia the jurors decided not to convict because they didn't want to impose the severe penalty. That's not wrong."
The fact is, if Polynice had been an average nobody, not a dunker of basketballs, not only would he still be in school, but he would also still be in possession of his privacy. Moreover, because he withdrew from the public eye as the debate about him continued, he has continually been misrepresented. He doesn't fit the dumb-jock stereotype that his critics have been quick to apply to him.
Polynice was born in Haiti in 1964 and moved to the Bronx when he was seven. The second of five children, he was a shy but affable youngster who adjusted well to his new surroundings. Without protest, he followed his parents' strict code of discipline. He came straight home from school each day and studied until bedtime. There was little socializing with other kids and definitely no hanging around the Bronx playgrounds. By the time he entered All Hallows High he was 6'4" and still hadn't played basketball. Then his schoolmates saw this giant of a kid walking the halls and coaxed him into trying out for the team.
In his first two high school seasons Polynice scored a total of 18 points. Those were years of learning, on and off the court. "He placed equal emphasis on academics and basketball," says his All Hallows coach, John Carey. "I think he was only absent two or three days his whole time here. No teachers ever came to me because he was having trouble."
By his junior year Polynice was a solid B-plus student and blossoming as a basketball player. He scored 1,053 points in his last two seasons and was All Hallows' captain and MVP as a senior. He was also named as one of five Athletes For Better Education/ New York Knickerbocker Scholar Athletes. "He had an 88-plus average and had turned into a good player when we cited him," says AFBE's New York executive director, Rich Kosik. "But I'll tell you, I was more confident about him hacking it as a student at Virginia than I was about his basketball."
Polynice, who became a Cavalier starter by the fifth game last season, averaged 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds over the final 11 games. He held Houston's Akeem Olajuwon to 12 points as Virginia nearly upset the Cougars in the NCAA semifinals. The on-court pressure led him to make the mistake with the paper—a 19-year-old freshman's mistake.
The initial sting is wearing off Polynice right now. "My frame of mind is good," he said last week. "I'm really happy I took this time off for my studies. When tests are over, I'm ready again for basketball." He expected to be in uniform for this Thursday's home game against Randolph-Macon and was hoping for a sympathetic reception from the fans. But he knows the stigma won't soon vanish. "In the ACC they pick on you whether they have reason to or not," he said. "I've got a motto for the rest of the year: DON'T LET THE BASTARDS GRIND YOU DOWN."