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Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Louisville returners accept scholarship hits

By Eamonn Brennan

How do you measure dedication to a team? Time spent in the gym? Intensity during workouts? Leadership qualities? Resolve after losses?

Try this one on for size. What if you're a team's leading returning scorer, and you're asked to give up your scholarship so your team can add new players within the NCAA's limits? Where does that rank on the dedication scale?

Given all that a scholarship entails -- thousands upon thousands of dollars in free tuition, room and board, even training table meals -- I'm going to say that puts Louisville's Kyle Kuric somewhere between "extremely dedicated" and "would have a Louisville Cardinal-themed wedding." According to Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Eric Crawford, Louisville coach Rick Pitino informed Kuric, the team's leading returning scorer, that he would have to forfeit his scholarship in 2011-12.

What gives? A classic college hoops numbers crunch. Pitino is adding a stellar 2011 class to his team this fall, a five man class comprising two McDonald's All-Americans and four ESPNU Top 100 recruits. One of those top-100 players is Kevin Ware, the former Tennessee and UCF signee, who signed a financial aid agreement with the school Tuesday. Another is George Mason transfer Luke Hancock, who could be a key player in 2012-13 after the customary one-year transfer period.

Kuric, a senior this fall, isn't the only Cardinal to lose his scholarship this season. Two more players -- fellow senior Chris Smith and sophomore Elisha Justice -- were also informed of the scholarship realities. Pitino discussed the situation with Crawford and gave his reasons for making the decisions:
"When Kyle first came here, he wasn’t supposed to be on scholarship and he was put on scholarship. Bullet [Elisha Justice] was coming here he wasn’t supposed to be on scholarship, he was put on scholarship. Chris Smith was not supposed to be on scholarship, he was put on scholarship. I told the Kuric family at some point in time throughout his career I might need it for a year and I’ve never had to do that until now. So we’ve been very up front with everybody. As a matter of fact, it’s just the opposite. Those guys weren’t supposed to be on scholarship but they were. And Kyle has more than not only exceeded but deserved the scholarship he’s been on.

"You know, look. We would not even consider asking unless [Kuric’s] family could afford it. His father’s a brain surgeon. That wouldn’t even be a factor. We wouldn’t even consider it."

Justice likely expected to be a walk-on for most of his career anyway. Smith, for his part, receives assistance from his older brother, Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smith, who made $16.5 million over three years in his latest contract. And Kuric, as Pitino writes, is the son of a brain surgeon. Apparently, financial factors are not involved.

Still, it's a big ask of all three, especially of Kuric, who vastly exceeded expectations in what could have been a serious down year for the Cardinals. Instead, it was a surprisingly successful one -- barring that first-round NCAA tournament upset to Morehead State, of course -- and Kuric was one of the major reasons why.

This move is far from unprecedented in college hoops. Two years ago, Mississippi State forward Jarvis Varnado -- the NCAA's all-time leading shot-blocker -- agreed to forfeit his scholarship and take a school loan so Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury could add the likes of Renardo Sidney.

But it's not all that common, either. When you consider how much money Kuric's dad will now be shelling out so his son can be one of the best shooters in the Big East, well, it's also downright admirable. It's easy to say you'll do whatever is best for your team. (Or, for that matter, your son's.) It's tougher when that "whatever" is "thousands and thousands of dollars."