College Basketball Nation: Jerry Wainwright

DePaul coach's home ransacked during trip

August, 24, 2011
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DePaul assistant coach Billy Garrett returned from the team's 11-day preseason tour of France to find that his family's home near South Side Chicago had been burglarized, leaving him devastated over losing family treasures. His son, top 2013 recruit Billy Garrett, Jr., was even missing his oxygen tank, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
"My father [William] was the first black that played basketball in the Big Ten" he said. "They took that jersey and his Globetrotter jersey. They also took my son's city championship ring and oxygen tank."

Garrett Jr. suffers from a rare form of sickle cell disease.

Garrett Jr. was quite upset about the item he treasured the most: "My grandfather was 'Mr. Basketball' in Indiana in 1947. I had his high school jersey framed in my room. They can have everything, but just give us back the things that don’t mean anything to anybody but us and I'll be happy."

Reached by phone, Garrett said he was speaking with police about the incident. It's expected that the school will do what it can to assist him as well.

Garrett , the son of Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Garrett, was a holdover from Jerry Wainwright's staff and began his coaching career in Chicago. His own son is already committed to DePaul with the idea that he'll help his father and head coach Oliver Purnell turn around the Blue Demons.

Garrett helped coach the team to an undefeated record in France, where they spent time in Paris with a choice of touring the Palace of Versailles or the Louvre Museum.

For the family to come back to its home and discover that it had been "cleaned...out," as Garrett described it, is heartbreaking and sickening.

Jerry Wainwright lands at Fresno State

May, 10, 2011
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Jerry Wainwright has been hired as an assistant coach under Rodney Terry at Fresno State.

Wainwright's last coaching job was at DePaul before being fired in the middle of last season when the program struggled. He previously led Richmond and North Carolina-Wilmington to the NCAA tournament. Terry had spent four seasons at UNC-Wilmington and seven weeks at Richmond serving on Wainwright's staff.

"It's my honor to be reunited with my mentor, Jerry Wainwright, who I believe is one of the greatest teachers of the game of basketball," Terry said in a statement.

Terry, a first-year head coach, should be able to draw from Wainwright's 16 seasons of college head coaching experience. The Bulldogs are rebuilding after the departures of coach Steve Cleveland and center Greg Smith, who left for the NBA draft.

For Wainwright, it's a chance to get back into some coaching after a difficult ending at DePaul. He has also recently undergone treatment for prostate cancer, according to StarNews.
"There’s no way I could pay him [Terry] back for everything he did to help me," Wainwright said. "But your first head coaching job can be overwhelming. Maybe I can save him some time and fill in some spots and help him avoid some of the potholes."

Wainwright was fired by DePaul in January 2010, and has spent the last year or so at his home in Brunswick County. He's received treatment for prostate cancer, but said his doctors at Duke Medical Center gave him a positive report five weeks ago, and he’s looking forward to helping Terry build the program at Fresno State.

"I have no reservations, I feel really good," Wainwright said.
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.

Not cool, DePaul

June, 3, 2010
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Yours truly has spent a decent portion of this offseason having a good whinge about college basketball's inherent inequalities. Those complaints have been spurred on by the transfer stories of Justin Knox and Murphy Holloway, players who had their No. 1 transfer destinations blocked by their current institutions for slightly arbitrary reasons.

There's also the practice of oversigning and running off, wherein coaches effectively revoke benchwarmers' scholarships in order to make way for more skilled incoming recruits.

To be fair, there have also been super happy fun time stories to be found in the past few months too, whether it's Rhode Island freeing Kyle Cain from his commitment or the NCAA allowing former Binghamton transfer Kraidon Woods to forgo his transfer eligibility year this season.

But the overriding principle still stands: Once players sign a national letter of intent to play basketball at a collegiate institution, they forgo any semblance of efficacy they had in the route their careers will take throughout college. If they want to leave, the school can say no. If the school says yes, it can put conditions on the agreement. If players want to stay, their coach can run them off.

Those coaches, meanwhile, are free to take as many jobs -- and make as much money, which, let's not even go down that road -- as they like. Nothing about this system seems particularly fair.

Which brings us to our latest, and perhaps most egregious, example: The story of DePaul recruit Walter Pitchford, which ESPNChicago's Scott Powers reported last night. Pitchford is a 6-foot-10 recruit who signed with former DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright, who has since resigned. He was eventually replaced by former Clemson coach Oliver Purnell. Pitchford decided that he didn't want to stick with his NLI and play for the new coach, which is something a decent portion of players caught in coaching transitions tend to decide.

DePaul's response? Not so fast, son. You're going to stay:
"Despite recent media reports of Walter Pitchford being released from the National Letter of Intent he signed in November 2009, DePaul University is committed to Walter and is looking forward to him joining the program for the 2010-11 season," the statement said. "Walter showed nothing but enthusiasm to attend DePaul University throughout the recruiting process and since he signed the NLI to join the men's basketball program. At this time, the athletics department does not intend to grant the release, and has notified the NLI Steering Committee as its provisions require."

Um ... OK? The reasons for keeping Pritchford in a commitment he doesn't want to be a part of are that he showed enthusiasm during the recruiting process -- when he was being recruited by a coach who no longer works at the school -- and because ... actually, I think that's it. That's the only reason DePaul's giving here. That is, other than "because we need the players," and "because we can," which are the real reasons for the decision.

Naturally, the Pritchford family is less than pleased:
"I called the athletic director [Jean Lenti Ponsetto] and told her we wanted our release," Walter Pitchford, Sr. said on Wednesday. "She said, 'We want to release him, but we want to recruit someone to take his place at the same time.' I said, 'Fine.' She also indicated to me that she had talked to the president, Father Dennis [Holtschneider], and he was in agreement in relation with Walter. I felt comfortable that at least we'll get Walter his release even if it takes 30 days. Then today, I hear he's been denied.

"When the president of the school and athletic director say he should get his release and something else happens, that concerns me a great deal. That's where I want to start -- right there with Father Dennis. Because she clearly relayed to me that she had talked to Father Dennis about Walter's situation, and that both of them agreed he should get his release. Now, we're looking at something different."

Ponsetto denies that there was ever any such agreement with Pritchford Sr. A spokesperson for DePaul said Ponsetto told the Pritchfords Walter would be released if the school found another recruit, and that no promises were made.

But that distinction shouldn't matter anyway! Pritchford signed his NLI with Jerry Wainwright. Wainwright is no longer DePaul's coach. Whether DePaul landed another recruit to replace Pritchford is completely beside the point -- the right thing to do is to let him out of his letter of intent.

And it's especially galling to have an athletic director essentially admit that she told a player he couldn't leave unless they could find a replacement, which they couldn't, so sorry, you're stuck. Who does that? And who admits to it?

Athletic directors and fans like to use the "you signed with the school, not with the coach" argument, but anyone remotely familiar with college basketball knows that reasoning to be utter garbage, a lame justification for a selfish choice. Players sign with coaches. When that coach leaves, the player should have a chance to leave too. It's really that simple.

To the credit of most schools, that's usually what happens. But not here. DePaul is going to keep a player that doesn't want to come to DePaul for two reasons: 1) Because it desperately needs players, and 2) Because it can.

"Wrong" doesn't begin to describe what this is.
This is a few days old now, but that's probably incidentally relevant -- the Big East tournament has moved on (and entertainingly so) without DePaul, just as college basketball has moved on without former DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright. Both are yesterday's news, figuratively, and in this case, literally.

Still, I can't resist. Jerry Wainwright is hilarious. To wit, his quote to Chicago Tribune reporter David Haugh from earlier this week, after DePaul had been eliminated from postseason play:
In the difficult days after DePaul's decision to fire him as men's basketball coach Jan. 11, Jerry Wainwright's wife, Debbie, recommended the couple decompress somewhere remote.

Ashamed of nothing and still hobbling around on crutches after breaking his tibia during his final game on the DePaul bench, Wainwright initially balked at the idea.

"She said she wanted to go someplace she never has been, so I suggested the kitchen,'' Wainwright deadpanned Tuesday on the phone. "She didn't like that. So I broke my leg in my last game, lost my job a few days later and was sleeping on the couch in the same week. In horseracing, they'd call that the trifecta. I should have gone to Arlington Park.''

Zing! See, I told you Jerry Wainwright was hilarious. I have one request for a marginal school looking for a coach in the coming weeks. (Here's looking at you, Auburn.) Hire Wainwright. What's the worst that could happen? The man is a capable coach who caught a bad situation at DePaul -- can anyone win at DePaul? -- and even if he doesn't turn your program around, Wainwright will be good for at least one vaguely sexist, outdated, and ultimately funny comment per week. There has to be a place for this man in college basketball. We can't let him retire to Arlington Park just yet.

DePaul offers eighth-grader, attracts Craig Robinson?

February, 12, 2010
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Tracy Webster might just be the interim head coach at DePaul, but he's recruiting like he wants to be there long-term.

A scholarship offer has gone out to 14-year-old eighth-grader Jahlil Okafor, according to ESPN Chicago. The bloodlines are there, with 6-foot-7 Jahlil being Emeka Okafor's distant cousin.

Meanwhile, Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, who has Chicago ties, is denying a report that a representative of his approached DePaul about the job opening after Jerry Wainwright was fired.

The Oregonian has Robinson's agent, Rick Giles, denying contact and also this from President Obama's brother-in-law:

After what Robinson said was a decent practice considering, he laughed at the notion that one of "his people'' would have contacted DePaul.

"Who are 'my people?' chuckled Robinson. "Is is Kelly? (his wife), is it Rick?, is it my mom? ... I'm not large enough to have 'people' yet but I'm sure there are folks who think that I do.''

...

He isn't sure OSU's performance this season screams out, "hot coaching property.''

"All you have to do is look at the record here (10-13 overall, 4-7 Pac-10). ... I'm not going to be going anywhere,'' he said.

Oregon State, by the way, shot 24.6 percent from field in a loss to Arizona State last night.
You've probably never heard of many of the members of the NCAA tournament selection committee, and you probably have no idea who sends out the invitations to the NIT. It would follow, then, that you'd have no clue who figures out which teams get to go to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, or the CIT -- the tournament for those teams whose seasons preclude them even from a spot in the NIT.

Guess what? The CIT actually has a pretty awesome selection committee. I didn't lie to you in the headline. It's true.

Looking for the newly fired Jerry Wainwright? There he is. What about once-disgraced former Georgia coach Jim Harrick? Yep. Maryland legend Lefty Driesell? Oh yeah. Former Illinois stalwart Lou Henson? You get the idea. We're one "True Blood" star away from this being a celebrity softball game.

Why is this cool? I'm not really sure. Maybe it's just nice to put some faces to names. The NCAA selection committee has done a nice job of increasing transparency in its process in the past few years -- for example, I'll be going to Indy to participate in a mock selection next week, which should be lots of fun -- but it's still the selection committee, and the nature of its composition (a group of athletic directors and conference commissioners) means it will remain largely faceless to the college hoops public. That's how it should be. It's the NCAA tournament. Let's keep it buttoned-down and professional.

Meanwhile, the CIT looked around, said "screw it," and asked a bunch of former coaches if they'd be willing to keep an eye on teams most of us have already completely forgotten about for the sake of sub-NIT tournament no one will watch. I find this immensely interesting, and I'm not really sure why.

Consensus: DePaul in trouble

January, 12, 2010
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DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright was fired in the middle of yet another disappointing season Monday, and this one had to sting. Wainwright was forced to face the media and receive his walking papers with a giant brace on his left leg, the product of a fractured tibia and torn MCL he suffered in a sideline collision with Villanova last Wednesday. It's never easy to lose one's job (I learned this from Up In The Air -- thanks, Jason Reitman!); feebly doing so on a busted left leg has to make it considerably worse.

It's hard not to feel for Wainwright, and that has to do with more than appearance. By all accounts -- that cliché rings true here; literally everyone who talks about Jerry Wainwright mentions how nice of a person he is -- Wainwright is one of the best people in college basketball, a capable coach with a rich sense of humor and a personality to light up a room. That's one of the consensuses the media has reached in the aftermath of Wainwright's firing. The other? That no one but no one can win at DePaul.

Go down the list. John Gasaway. Mike DeCourcy. Brian Hamilton. Seth Davis. Mike Miller. Rush The Court (who are a little more optimistic, or naive, than most). Almost everyone who wrote about Jerry Wainwright's firing wrote two things: 1) Jerry Wainwright is a really nice guy, and 2) DePaul isn't going to get good anytime soon.

Sometimes consensus is wrong. Sometimes Derek Jeter isn't as good as everyone would like to think. But sometimes consensus is dead on, and this is one of those times.

Why? Why can't DePaul win? After all, it's nestled in Lincoln Park, one of the nicest and youngest neighborhoods in a city positively brimming with basketball talent. It has the strength of "tradition," a run of Ray Meyer-led glory years that peaked in the 1980s. It has a really nice student athletic facility on campus where some of the best pickup basketball in the city goes down. (OK, so that last one doesn't have anything to do with anything. I just wanted to give my gym a shout-out.)

None of those things seem to matter, for at least two reasons. First, DePaul is playing in the Big East, and top recruits from Chicago and the Midwest apparently don't grow up dreaming of Big East glory. Second, DePaul is playing in the Big East, and the Big East, in case you hadn't noticed, is really, really good. There is no forgiveness in the league, no real opportunity to recover from playing a national power or two. It's a week-in, week-out buzzsaw, even in years when the conference doesn't seed three No. 1 teams in the NCAA tournament.

Throw in DePaul's lack of a football team and its questionable "home" gym -- Allstate Arena, located all the way out by O'Hare Airport in the Chicago suburbs -- and you've got a recipe for a perennial Big East doormat.

DePaul might be better off back in Conference USA. It might need a new hoops venue in the heart of Chicago, or at least somewhere relatively close to campus. Until that happens, DePaul basketball is going to continue to wallow in sub-mediocrity, and it won't be Jerry Wainwright's -- or any other coach's -- fault.

A disturbing trend

January, 11, 2010
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By the end of January 2009, two coaches -- Mark Gottfried at Alabama and Dennis Felton at Georgia -- had been giving their walking papers and coaches everywhere noted the disturbing trend in college hoops.

So where does that put this season? Two weeks before the anniversaries of Gottfried and Felton's departures, three coaches are out: Glen Miller at Penn, Dereck Whittenburg at Fordham and now Jerry Wainwright at DePaul (Dartmouth's Terry Dunn resigned).

None have been caught in any sort of scandal and none are employed by deep-pocketed state universities with football money to burn, yet all three universities decided they couldn't wait another two months.

It is really strange when you consider that none of them were very good last year. For reasons that are every bit as perplexing as their in-season dismissals are surprising, all three were retained.

What changed: angry boosters, transferring players and most of all mounting losses. Penn was winless when it let go of Miller and it's deep-pocketed alumni were staying away from the Palestra; Fordham was in the Atlantic 10 basement again and star player Jio Fontan decided to pull the plug on his time in the Bronx and DePaul, winless in the Big East regular-season last year, was starting on the same goose-egged foot.

Certainly losing is cause for dismissal in college athletics but firing a coach in season blurs the line between the college and professional game even more. Worse it sends a frightening message to the athletes and puts even more pressure on 18 to 22 year olds to win. And win now or else.

Firing coaches mid-season is more than a dangerous trend. As the numbers show from one January to the next, it's a growing trend.

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