As the roster situation works itself out at the University of Kentucky, I’ve gotten a good bit of email voicing concern for players who are packing their bags. And it is important that we remember that it’s not just a roster spot, it’s a life, a player, a person, his education, his dreams.
At the same time, it is a fact of life anymore in college sports. New coach, new players. We saw it with University of Louisville football, whether it was dismissals or departures. Syracuse has had 14 players leave its football program since a new coach took over after last season.
The departures are more noticeable in basketball, and perhaps they are more noticeable at UK than anywhere, because these players are very much embraced by the fan base. Most of the email voicing concern comes from more longtime fans, who don’t take the departure of anyone who has worn the UK uniform lightly.
But the departures are also notable for their sheer numbers. The number now is at a half-dozen Wildcats, if you count walk-on Landon Slone, who are making room for the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.
They look at a guy like Kevin Galloway, for example, and see a guy who endured more head games than a player ought to last season, and feel bad that he’s been told he’s not needed. They look at Matt Pilgrim, a guy who put in an entire season in practice while redshirting, and feel bad that he won’t get to take the court. A.J. Stewart had academic problems and is gone. Landon Slone, a walk on, transferred reluctantly. Michael Porter graduated and isn’t coming back for his last season of eligibility. Donald Williams, not unexpectedly, was cut loose.
Five scholarship players is a lot of turnover, expected or not, No. 1 recruiting class or not.
It’s not unprecedented. I was the beat writer for U of L when Rick Pitino took over. At that time, a new piece of NCAA legislation called the 5-3 rule was in effect. You couldn’t bring in more than five new recruits in any season, which stemmed the turnover in Louisville a bit.
Still, there was plenty. Leroy Davis, who had signed a letter of intent with U of L, was told he wasn’t going to play and shouldn’t bother showing up. Daouda Cisse, whose younger brother Ousmane, had been considering U of L, was cut loose when his brother decided to try the NBA. Mac Wilkinson, the younger brother of Felton Spencer, also was out the door.
And Pitino didn’t have a No. 1 recruiting class coming in. People sometimes forget about the turnover in his early seasons in Louisville. Ten players left the program through one circumstance or another in his first three seasons.
I’d agree on all counts, if a school makes a commitment to a player, and that player isn’t allowed to transfer without some penalty (sitting out a season), then schools should not be able to shed players without cause (team rules, academic, etc.) without paying a penalty of their own. The fair penalty would be to leave that scholarship open for one complete season.
But that’s not going to happen. And as long as the rules are the way they are, players will have to beware.
Because it happens everywhere.