WORCESTER - Nearly two months after a melee that left one of the Worcester 78's basketball players with a broken jaw, the semi-professional team is focused on the playoffs and has put the incident behind them, but police in Elmira, New York, have not.
Investigators there still want to know the identity of an Elmira Eagles player who was not listed on the roster and who was likely responsible for some of the injuries, including concussions, sustained by the Worcester players.
On Saturday, they asked for help from the public to identify the player, posting information about the case on Facebook.
The 78's owner, Tom Marino, said in an interview Tuesday that this isn't the kind of publicity he wanted when he has a winning team whose members showed restraint during the incident. But he understands that the situation has become a legal matter.
The Worcester 78's are part of the American Basketball Association, a men's semi-pro circuit of mostly former college players. The team plays home games at the Worcester Boys & Girls Club.
The incident happened when the 78's were down by a point in the Dec. 16 game and were preparing to take some foul shots near the end of the game. That's when the Eagles owner went to the side of the court and appears to have struck a Worcester player. The scene was captured on two separate videos - one shot by Mr. Marino and a second from the facility's security cameras.
"The player who got hit was quite upset," Mr. Marino said. "Our other players tried to move him away because we knew they (the Eagles) were about to give us this game."
But other players from the Eagles - including the now sought-after mysterious number 22 - jumped in, leaving Lee Vazquez with a broken jaw, Mr. Marino said.
Police said they were told that player was Chad Dillard, and after looking for him over the last two months, they realized they'd been duped.
"During the course of the investigation, the Eagles management, coach and players knowingly mislead this department into believing that the suspect (described by the victims as wearing jersey #22) was Chad Dillard, a former player and Rochester resident," Elmira police wrote in a news release. "We have now learned that Dillard had already quit the team earlier and another person wore jersey number #22 , on the night of the assault."
Mr. Marino said he doesn't know who wore the 22 jersey for Elmira that night because he hasn't seen the official score book, where that should have been recorded. Keeping those records is the responsibility of the home team, he explained.
The American Basketball Association, of which both teams are a part, is somewhat more relaxed than bigger leagues, and it's not unusual for the players, who are unpaid, to miss a game and be replaced by a substitute. A substitute player's name should be in the record, but, Mr. Marino said, most times the focus is on the players with longevity who are better and more likely top pose a threat on the court.
The two teams probably won't face off again, Mr. Marino said. There are plenty of other teams in the Northeast Division of the American Basketball Association and owners have leeway in setting schedules and opponents.
"We will never play them, ever again," he said.
While Elmira police continue to investigate, the 78's are preparing for their final home game, which will be played at 7 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Worcester Boys & Girls Club.