This is not how things are normally done in college basketball. It is how things should be done.
On Tuesday, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall released four-star recruit Alex Lomax from his letter of intent so he could play for conference rival Memphis next year without using his power to penalize him.
Lomax played for East High in Memphis, where Penny Hardaway was coach before taking the job with the Memphis Tigers last week. Hardaway replaced Tubby Smith, who was fired after going 40-26 over two seasons with a poor recruiting record.
Since Lomax had signed his letter of intent, Marshall could have forced him to sit out for a season per NCAA transfer rules and fought his move to a conference rival. But he didn’t.
Marshall released a statement published by the Wichita Eagle explaining his thought process.
“I have a lot of respect for Alex Lomax and his family. When they chose Wichita State in the fall, over several other very nice offers, my staff and I were honored. Obviously, we take commitments to the Shocker program very seriously, but this is a very unique situation where a young man’s mentor and coach since the fifth grade has become a Division I head coach. Allowing him out of his NLOI without any kind of penalty is the right thing to do at this time.”
That’s really refreshing. Marshall did not have to do that. He’ll probably catch flak from the competitive wing of the Wichita State fan base, but he decided in this case that making the right, common sense decision was the correct thing to do.
It’s a rarity in college sports. Once a player signs a letter of intent, he gives up his power, even if the coach he agrees to play for ends up leaving during his tenure. Transfers are often accompanied by negotiations and almost always see the one-year sit penalty enforced. Sometimes, in the case of North Carolina graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, schools look beyond the bounds of the rules to make things difficult.
Pittsburgh tried to force Johnson to sit last season when he transferred to UNC even though it had no recourse to do so. Graduate transfers are allowed to play where they please without sitting out a year, but Pitt fought tooth and nail to block the transfer to a conference rival before finally conceding it had no grounds to do so.
Now Lomax will join his longtime youth coach in college. And he won’t be the only one. Part of Hardaway’s appeal in Memphis besides his obvious ties as a former player is his pipeline to top Tennessee talent.
Five-star prospect Chandler Lawson and James Wiseman, the No. 2 overall prospect in his class also played for Hardaway at East High while four-star prospect D.J. Jeffries played for Hardaway’s youth league Team Penny. They’re all expected to join Hardaway in Memphis which would give him a formidable core of young talent in his second year on the job.
All of this had to be a consideration for Marshall, whose Shockers will likely see a much more competitive conference opponent in upcoming years. Yet he decided to not abuse his power.
Instead he simply chose to do the right thing.
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