Former assistant basketball coach Steve DeMeo is suing St. John’s University, claiming that he was let go and replaced after they found out about his medical condition.
In the lawsuit, according to Sports Illustrated, Coach Steve DeMeo has a heart condition known as mitral valve prolapse, that required multiple emergency medical procedures throughout the 2020 season. He claims that after telling head coach Mike Anderson and St. John’s University that he he would need more surgery going into 2021, his contract was terminated and he was replaced by Greg “Shoes” Vetrone.
“It was only after Mr. DeMeo discussed his ongoing medical condition with Mr. Anderson and his need for additional medical procedures going forward that Mr. Anderson chose to terminate employment,” the lawsuit read. “By waiting until June, Mr. Anderson minimized Mr. DeMeo’s opportunities to find suitable alternate employment for the 2021–22 season.”
DeMeo’s surgery in August 2020 aimed to help his irregular heartbeat, while another removed a mass on his left vocal cord. The surgeries required two weeks in the hospital to recover, and then extended care at home.
“I got the sense that when I told [Anderson] that there were still procedures that needed to be done, things went south,” Steve DeMeo told Sports Illustrated. “He didn’t want to accommodate me, it didn’t sound like.”
DeMeo also spoke about two incidents of wrongdoing by Coach Anderson and the St. John’s basketball staff, which seemed damaging for the university’s claim that he was fired with just cause.
He alleges in the lawsuit that the staff not only refused to follow proper Covid-19 protocols, but that he also joined the team in standing up for a player that Coach Anderson wanted to bench over an insignificant dispute. That player, Isaih Moore, later left the team to play for Southern Mississippi.
“I don’t think our head coach built a relationship up with Isaih [Moore] as much as he could have,” DeMeo later said. “If he did that, I think it would have been a different outcome.”
Despite Anderson wanting to kick Moore off the team over miscommunication with his shot selection, DeMeo and the team refused to play the second half if Moore did not remain on the team. Anderson obliged and the team won that game against Seton Hall 81-71.
“The public success of the St. John’s men’s basketball team on the court masked a tumultuous end to the season where Mr. Anderson lost control of the team and the players nearly revolted against him before the end of the season,” the lawsuit stated. “Mr. DeMeo helped hold the team together.”
During the 2020-2021 season, seven scholarship players transferred out of the program. “The team simply did not want to play for him anymore,” Steve DeMeo said of Coach Anderson.
When DeMeo told Anderson that he needed more procedures after the season ended during a performance review, Anderson responded saying, “Well, you have a job to do; you have to do it.” He was fired “abruptly” a month after that meeting.
“I thought we were supposed to be a family,” DeMeo said. “[Anderson] preaches family all the time, togetherness, supporting each other in hard times and all that stuff, and that’s kind of why I feel sick to my stomach about this whole thing.”
“I’m not a litigious person,” he continued. “There has been a lot of pressure on me just to move forward, but I feel like I have to do it and they can’t be allowed to treat people this way.”
St. John’s University has denied any wrongdoing or misconduct on behalf of Mike Anderson and the coaching staff, but said that it cannot comment on the lawsuit as the case is ongoing.
Steve DeMeo has since moved on and found an assistant coaching job for East Carolina University.