- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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ESPN.com has learned through a source that Connecticut Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, interim athletic director Paul Pendergast, UConn president Susan Herbst and at least one member of the compliance department met Friday to ensure that it was possible to add another scholarship player -- a big one -- even though the program is officially out of scholarships.
Once it was determined that one player on the current roster -- a source told ESPN.com it is redshirt freshman Michael Bradley -- could possibly qualify for financial aid days before the fall semester begins this week, a call was made to Andre Drummond's camp that a possible scholarship was available.
And then came the tweet Friday from Drummond: “It’s official I’m heading to the university of connecticut to be a husky this year! Do I hear repeat.”
The sudden turn of events -- ESPN's No. 2-ranked player in the class of 2012 passing on being a post-graduate player in 2011-12 and staying with his original class to join the defending champs -- is quite remarkable. The addition of the 6-foot-10, 275-pound center instantly elevates the Huskies into Big East-front-runner status and a legitimate national-title contender alongside fellow favorites North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State.
Drummond, a native of Middletown, Conn., announced on Aug. 10 that he had a list of five schools (UConn, Kentucky, Louisville, Georgetown and West Virginia) and would return for a post-graduate year at Wilbraham & Monson (Mass.) after graduating from Connecticut's St. Thomas More. So much for that. Drummond still has to get through the NCAA Eligibility Center, but that isn’t expected to be a major hurdle.
As for the back story, the change at the top of the UConn athletic department shouldn't be dismissed. It was no secret that Calhoun and former athletic director Jeff Hathaway weren’t on the best of terms. Last week, Hathaway took a settlement after being forced to retire. That opened the door for some cooperation within a group that is clearly on the same page at the top of the UConn administration. Herbst, her hand-picked interim in Pendergrast, and Calhoun, whom she has openly supported since her arrival and has been visible with at notable events of late, from the White House visit to his multiple charity events.
Drummond hasn’t said officially why he suddenly changed his mind to go to college rather than prep school for another year. But UConn, which has been privately working for a while on trying to get Drummond to come next season rather than wait for a year, had to see if it could find a spot for him.
The program's scholarship count is down to 10 out of the maximum 13 due to a combination of NCAA rules violations from the Nate Miles case and a poor academic performance rating.
The Huskies added a high-profile recruit last fall in point guard Ryan Boatright and then late in the spring signing period nabbed forward DeAndre Daniels for the 10th spot. ESPN.com has learned that the other remaining eight players on scholarship -- Bradley, junior Alex Oriakhi, sophomores Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander, Niels Giffey, Roscoe Smith and Enosch Wolf -- are all going to stay on the team. There was some chatter about Wolf possibly playing overseas, but he has chosen to return to the Huskies.
But Drummond will be, and has to be, on scholarship. He cannot be a UConn walk-on since he was recruited. In order for that to happen, the school determined that Bradley could qualify for financial aid and give up his scholarship for Drummond.
If a player can qualify for financial aid (or if he can pay his own way), then he can go from scholarship to non-scholarship with an exception and not count against your roster. But the player, in this case Bradley, has to agree to the proposal to take on financial aid and likely a loan. A source said the discussion with Bradley and his family was well underway and everything will almost certainly get worked out, but that the school was caught a bit off-guard by Drummond's surprise, preemptive tweet.
Bradley, a 6-10 big man from Chattanooga, Tenn., figures to be a backup to Oriakhi and will likely share minutes with Olander and Wolf inside. Adding Drummond, a player that every school coveted, means fewer minutes for the rest of the frontcourt rotation players but a better chance to win a title.
The Huskies can’t afford any more transfers and certainly are in no position to run a player off for Drummond. The program is in a tenuous position with its APR and can’t run afoul of the new restrictions put in place. UConn hasn't been hurt by early-entry defections that left while eligible, but rather seniors that didn’t finish strong before they left, along with multiple transfers.
The APR, which measures classroom performance for every Division I team, allows for professional exceptions if the player leaves in good academic standing. Connecticut's multi-year score announced in May was 893, which was below the cut line of 925 and thus cost the program two scholarships. The NCAA’s board of directors recently approved a new standard of 930 for the four-year rolling average, with the penalty being a postseason ban.
As for this edition of the Huskies, there is no question the current roster offers a legitimate chance of a repeat. Lamb, who had an outstanding trip with the USA’s U-19 team earlier this summer, is the team’s top returning player after Kemba Walker left early for the NBA. Oriakhi will be the team’s leader inside and top rebounder.
But Drummond immediately becomes the team’s top scorer in the post and offers immediate balance. Walker dominated the ball last season, but Drummond will free up shots for Lamb, putbacks for Oriakhi and certainly make life easier for Napier at the point. Boatright is also expected to challenge for major minutes at the point and Daniels is another strong addition in the frontcourt.
The addition of Drummond makes the Huskies the Big East favorite, ahead of Syracuse and Louisville. A year ago, UConn had lower expectations, even with Walker, and actually finished just 9-9 in the Big East. But Connecticut went on an historic run behind Walker, winning five games in five days to capture the Big East tournament title and then winning the next six for the school’s third national championship.
There won't be any plucky underdog theme this season, though. The nation will expect much of the Huskies -- there's no pretending otherwise.
For a defending national champ, Connecticut has a pretty light nonconference slate. The Huskies will travel to the Battle 4 Atlantis tourney, where they'll be on the same side of the bracket as Ivy favorite Harvard and opposite of Florida State. UConn also hosts Harvard and will return a game at rebuilding Tennessee. In the SEC-Big East Invitational, Calhoun's bunch draws a home game against Arkansas and first-year coach Mike Anderson.
Calhoun, who will be suspended by the NCAA for the team's first three Big East games due to the Miles case, had to change his staff with the departure of Andre LaFleur to Providence. He bumped up Glen Miller to join Kevin Ollie and George Blaney as the top assistants and then added former George Washington coach and one-time UConn player and assistant coach Karl Hobbs as director of basketball operations to fill Miller’s spot.
So for now, all the Huskies need to know is whether Bradley will agree to go off scholarship to ensure Drummond is on the roster and starting school this week. Barring a major hiccup, this will occur (if it hasn't already), allowing UConn to add a gigantic piece to its Final Four puzzle in late August -- something that is almost unheard of in the history of the game.