Behanan could have been a leader

He seemed sincere.

In December 2012, Chane Behanan told me that Louisville coach Rick Pitino was justified when he suspended the 6-foot-6 power forward for the summer of 2012 and banned him from media appearances for the first two months of the 2012-13 season.

Maturity (lack thereof) was a problem, Behanan told me.

And that period of time -- by all accounts, he’s allergic to silence -- helped him realize that.

That moment of self-reflection was preceded by a wave of havoc that Behanan had unleashed on the overhyped Kentucky squad that couldn’t stop him and the Louisville Cardinals during their 80-77 win that was more lopsided than the score indicated.

For 40 minutes, he tried to snatch the rim off its frame.

He was so dominant that an NBA scout told me the undersized forward could be a solid pro, perhaps a late first-rounder.

Rick Pitino praised Behanan after that game, too. Sure, Behanan had been immature in the past, but he’d made strides, Pitino said.

But Behanan just pressed Ctrl-Alt-Delete.

On Thursday, the team announced that Behanan has been suspended for an indefinite term. He could come back in mid-December. But there are no guarantees that he’ll ever return.

Indefinite suspension? Now?

The season is here, Chane. You’re supposed to be one of the leaders on a team that lost respected veteran Peyton Siva to the NBA. You’ve jeopardized your shot at a pro career because of all the red flags.

Did you mean what you said in December, Chane?

This is a talented individual who can’t seem to stay out of his own way.

And now, Louisville enters the season with an even bigger mess inside and more questions about its leadership challenges.

On the floor, Louisville just lost a player who provided much-needed size inside. Right now, 6-8 forward Montrezl Harrell could be the team’s go-to center. Behanan’s bulk is (was) a critical part of a Louisville rotation that no longer features big man Gorgui Dieng, who has moved on to the NBA.

But the Cardinals still have players. Good players.

That’s not the question. This is: Do they have the necessary leadership to win their second consecutive national championship?

That was the concern throughout the offseason. This Cardinals squad -- with the addition of junior college stud Chris Jones -- still possesses one of the nation’s most talented rosters.

The potential impact of Siva’s absence can’t be ignored, though. Siva had a presence in the locker room. He kept the characters in line. He provided balance.

He was like another coach for the Cardinals, who ultimately reached the podium in Atlanta.

Behanan was on that podium, too. He was smiling and joking with his teammates throughout the celebration. That’s his persona. The jokester. The guy who can always make his teammates laugh.

And worry.

No one expected Behanan to be the next Siva or replace him. But Behanan can help. He could have helped.

This suspension doesn’t help. Anyone. It only hurts Behanan and the program.

The last thing this Louisville group needs is another Behanan mess as it prepares to defend its national title and fight through the new American Athletic Conference a year before transitioning to the ACC.

The last thing Pitino needs is another timeout for his starting power forward.

The last thing Behanan needs is another incident that will make everyone who doubted his progress last season believe they were right the whole time.

It doesn’t sound as if Pitino expects Behanan to return to the rotation in the near future.

If that happens, this could be the kind of early turmoil that burdens the program for the entire season. In March and April, this could matter even more.

Behanan is a junior now. The Cardinals don’t have time to wait for him to stop the nonsense. They have a national championship to defend. The latter will happen only if new leaders come forward.

Before Thursday, Behanan was a candidate.

You can press Ctrl-Alt-Delete.