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Tuesday, July 6, 2010
DePaul recruit takes case to NCAA

By Eamonn Brennan

A month ago, we discussed the story of DePaul recruit Walter Pitchford, Jr. It's a frustrating one: The 6-foot-10 recruit from Grand Rapids, Mich., committed to DePaul under former coach Jerry Wainwright, who was later fired and replaced by former Clemson coach Oliver Purnell.

Given the coaching change, Pitchford, Jr. asked to be released from his national letter of intent that binds him to the school, a reasonable request given the massive changes in the program since Pitchford signed on. Naturally, DePaul denied that request.

There are extenuating circumstances surrounding the situation: Pitchford's father, Walter Sr., claims he was told by school administrators prior to Purnell's hiring that his son would be released from the NLI. The Pitchfords are also apparently citing violence in the Chicago area as a reason for the request.

But none of that really matters. First of all, it's another example of how one-sided the letter of intent agreement can be and how little power players have over their careers once they sign it. When people complain about college basketball being an exploitative system, this is what they mean.

More than that, though, it makes DePaul look desperate and petty. Most schools facing similar circumstances hope their new coach can effectively recruit previous commitments. If he can't, those schools typically allow those players to go a different way. DePaul's decision to blatantly flaunt that custom simply because it can is just, well, wrong. Let the kid go, you know?

Anyway, that's the back story. The news here is that Pitchford, Jr. has decided to appeal the NCAA in the hopes the organization will allow him his release. Pitchford Sr. told Adam Zagoria that he hasn't heard from the school since it released its decision on the matter June 2. He seems especially perturbed at Purnell himself:
“If the two of them [DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto and school president Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider] have said that they would release Walter, then it obviously falls on Coach Purnell at this point,” Pitchford Sr. said. “And that’s even more disturbing because I don’t understand how Coach Purnell got hired and he didn’t even come to see Walter. He went to visit all the recruits and didn’t come to see Walter. That’s not right, especially because we live closest to DePaul. We’re only 200 miles away. He could’ve drove here, like Coach [Jerry] Wainwright did.”

It's a bad situation. Neither Walter Jr. or Walter Sr. seem especially interested in a relationship with DePaul's new coach. The appeal could fail. Either way, the determination will take at least 30 days, meaning Pitchford won't know his future until early August. Most recruits are already on campus taking summer school and preparing in workouts with their teams in late June.

It looks increasingly likely that Purnell will be welcoming Pitchford to campus in a month. The only problem, of course, is that Pitchford has zero interest in going to DePaul or playing for Oliver Purnell. Put another way, it appears Purnell will soon be forcing a player to play for the Blue Demons against his will.

Forget the surrounding nonsense. Forget, for a moment, the ethical issues at stake. Why would you want to do that? Why introduce that kind of chaos into your team? Why detract from the first year of a rebuilding process with a potentially high-profile NCAA appeals office? Why make life so difficult for yourself? For what? For the No. 63-ranked power forward in the class of 2010? Really?

Throw in the ethical stakes -- again, DePaul is keeping a player after a coaching change against that player's will -- and an already ugly situation looks even worse. If Purnell is successful at DePaul, it won't be because he kept Pitchford. It will be in spite of it.