If Marshall basketball fans are smarting, it's easy to understand why. After a very solid 2011-12 season, and the return of most of the Herd's key contributors, coach Tom Herrion's team looked set to compete for a spot in the NCAA tournament in 2012-13 and possibly even challenge Memphis for Conference USA supremacy. Instead, Marshall fell off the face of the Earth. The Thundering Herd went 13-19, ending with a first-round C-USA loss to Tulane; they finished the season ranked 217th in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings, all the way down from 79th a season before.
If that wasn't bad enough, this spring DeAndre Kane, the team's star guard, left the program after meeting with Herrion. Herrion's statement at the time -- "After meeting with DeAndre, I have decided it is in our program's and his best interest that he seek opportunities elsewhere," it began -- clearly hinted at a turmoil that couldn't be solved. You don't decide to send your best player away after a 13-19 season unless something is really wrong.
Whether the departure was the fault of Herrion or Kane (or both) has been a subject of much discussion among Marshall fans, which is part of the reason why Kane's farewell letter to Huntington, W.Va., published this weekend in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, is so interesting. Opinion on Kane has always been split, and some blamed him for the poor performance last season; Herrion has always drawn his fair share of critics for failing to bring a talented but frustrating player under his wing.
The other reason why this is interesting is because Kane -- who is transferring to Iowa State for his final year of eligibility this summer -- wrote a genuinely impressive, even moving statement about his time in Huntington and his gratitude for everything he learned there. It is worth a read based entirely on its own merits:
Coming from where I come from sometimes the end of the road is high school if you're lucky enough to make it that far and your path could be chosen for you after that. It took a while for me to see that and with the support the city has given me through the ups and downs I appreciate my education experience and struggles that I've learned from here that much more.
I know that things didn't end here the way I wanted them too and I apologize for not leading the team to the NCAA Tournament because this city deserves it. What I do promise though is to bring something back to this community better than a basketball championship -- hope and fun for the kids. Whether I play pro basketball or just become a business man, I'll continue to contribute to the youth in this area once I get my career.
It's really good -- the kind of stuff you hope to hear from someone who has grown from four years at an institution of higher learning. At least from the outside, there have been few indications Kane saw that bigger picture, but he's clearly learned something, and that may make his departure even more difficult for Marshall fans to swallow.
In the meantime, it should be noted that this is now the second time in the past month that the citizens of Huntington have been the addressees of glowing, classy open letters from departing players. The first came in late May, when No. 1-ranked recruit Andrew Wiggins penned a farewell thank you note for the support he was shown during his years at Huntington Prep. There may be some measure of public relations at work here, sure, but I'd prefer to think Huntington is basically the Pawnee, Ind., of West Virginia. Chris Traeger would love this stuff.