College Basketball Nation: Miguel Paul

Conference USA's most important players

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
7:25
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Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on C-USA, click here.

The most important player for each team in the conference ...

East Carolina: Miguel Paul
Paul ran the show in effective fashion for ECU last season, posting a 108.8 offensive rating while leading his team in usage and submitting the ninth-best assist rate in the nation (40.6). He'll be just as crucial in his final season.

Houston: Danuel House
House is the most talented recruit the Houston men's basketball program has landed in a long time. He could have chosen just about any destination for college ball, but he chose to stay in Houston and play for third-year coach James Dickey. House could be a star on a previously irrelevant team from day one.

Marshall: Dennis Tinnon
Marshall didn't miss the NCAA tournament by much last season, but miss the tourney it did. If that changes, it will be in part because Tinnon -- who posted a 120.2 offensive rating and ranked in the top 50 nationally in defensive and offensive rebounding rate -- takes on an even larger share of the offense.

Memphis: Joe Jackson
The lightning-quick Memphis native carries the weight of a city on his back every time he plays. Through his first two seasons, Jackson has often displayed why those childhood expectations started in the first place -- even if it feels like we haven't seen him put it all together just yet.

[+] EnlargeArsalan Kazemi
AP Photo/Erich SchlegelArsalan Kazemi, who plays for Iran's national team, averaged 12.1 points and 10.3 rebounds as a junior last season.
Rice: Arsalan Kazemi
One of the nation's unknown stars is Rice's best player and its most important, a rebounding force who needs to command double-teams to help the Owls improve last season's putrid offense.

SMU: Jalen Jones
Speaking of putrid offense, SMU was awful on that side of the floor in 2011-12. But freshman guard Jones showed plenty of potential along the way.

Southern Miss: Neil Watson
The 5-foot-11 guard was former coach Larry Eustachy's second-most-used offensive option last season, when he shot 37.5 percent from the 3-point line and posted a 30.7 percent assist rate. Both of those figures should improve in 2012.

Tulane: Ricky Tarrant
It has been a tough decade or so for Tulane hoops, but Tarrant, who averaged 14.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists (and efficiently so) as a freshman last season, will give the Green Wave at least one go-to option going forward.

Tulsa: Scottie Haralson
Losing leading scorer Jordan Clarkson to an unflattering (for Tulsa) transfer scenario was a major blow, which is chief among the reasons why Haralson must step up as a senior.

UAB: Preston Purifoy
The Blazers are in rebuilding mode after firing coach Mike Davis, so all personnel bets are off. That means Purifoy, by far the team's most efficient player last season, could get more opportunities to show his skills.

UCF: Marcus Jordan
Keith Clanton is the more obvious pick, but he and Isaiah Sykes form a nice rebounding tandem on the low block. Jordan will have the ball in his hands more often and will have to be far more consistent to live up to the flashes of excellence we've seen in his time at UCF.

UTEP: Julian Washburn
Junior John Bohannon is a known quantity, a solid post man and an active rebounder who converts his opportunities well. Washburn, a 6-7 sophomore, has tons of upside, but he will have to become much more efficient in his second season.
You know what would be, like, a total buzzkill? Signing a scholarship to play collegiate basketball at a major institution, making good on your end of the commitment, and then finding out after a year -- or two or three -- that, hey, thanks for coming, but we kind of need that scholarship for someone vastly more talented now. Would you mind transferring? This is where we the school will kindly remind you that your scholarship is a one-year, merit-based, renewable document, and we are under no obligation to extend it for another year should we choose not to. Any questions?

Harsh, bro. Harsh. The practice of sending players away via transfer to make room for scholarships is called a runoff, and it happens more frequently than it should -- which is to say it shouldn't happen at all.

Typically, runoff players transfer quietly, moving on from their schools with little protest. Sometimes, though, a player or a player's family gets angry about what they see as a raw deal. Sometimes they talk to the media. These are important moments; they draw the curtain back on one of college basketball's most unfair, exploitative policies, and they're worth discussing when they arrive.

Last year's biggest such moment came when Kentucky coach John Calipari oversaw the transfer of seven players leftover from Billy Gillispie's tenure at the school. Several of those players publicly claimed they forced out of the program, while Calipari insisted that he merely told those players they likely wouldn't get much playing time if they decided to stay at UK.

We have another such moment this offseason. On April 12, Missouri announced that forward Tyler Stone and sophomore guard Miguel Paul would be transferring out of the program to seek opportunities elsewhere. On April 14, Missouri signed two top-rated junior college transfers. Good timing.

True to form, Paul and Stone have remained quiet about the situation, but Stone's mother Sharon -- yes, her name is Sharon Stone, and there's no word on whether Sam Rothstein's lawyers are going to get involved -- spoke out to the Associated Press on what she sees as the unfair treatment of her son:
"I can't see how a school can love him to death one year and the next year cut him loose," said his mother, Sharon Stone. "They had to get rid of somebody." She described a celebratory spring break barbecue touting her son's first year in college. Her son went back to campus afterward and, hours later, called with unexpected news. "He came back (to Columbia) Monday and said, 'I have to transfer,'" she recalled. "I thought he was going to graduate from that school."

This isn't intended to pick on Missouri or Kentucky specifically, because this happens everywhere. As the AP writes, it's hard to quantify just how common this is, because runoff players are lumped into statistics about college hoops roster turnover with transfers who decide to leave of their own volition (Paul is one such transfer, according to his public comments) as well as players who lose their scholarships due to academic underperformance. But pretty much everyone agrees this happens all the time, and everywhere.

What makes this issue especially salient -- and ripe for change -- is that level of agreement. College hoops fans are divided on all sorts of things -- on whether players should be paid, on whether the one-and-done rule is a good or bad thing, and so on. Even tournament expansion, a vastly unpopular idea, had its share of defenders. But everyone agrees here: Runoffs are a bad thing, and they should never happen. College hoops is already a vastly imbalanced enterprise. It generates oodles of cash for its institutions and conferences and coaches and athletic directors, all of who have the freedom to come and go from school to school however they please. Players, on the other hand, are beholden to their institutions; they have to wait an entire calendar year to transfer, should they so choose. The flip-side of that agreement? Players can lose their scholarships at any point during the offseason whether those players like it or not.

It's incredibly unfair. (And harsh too, bro.) And as much as coaches try to keep these runoffs from being public -- seeming willing to discard your players is a great way to lose recruits and come off as cutthroat at the same time -- it's not like this is a secret. It's in the NCAA's rules.

Those rules have to be changed. At the risk of merely criticizing and not offering constructive solutions -- my mom always told me that wasn't nice -- let's spitball fixes. Here's a start: The NCAA needs come up with a new rule, one that makes scholarships a four-year commitment by the institution voidable only if the player decides to leave or if the player fails to live up to the school's academic and behavioral code. Failing that, the NCAA needs to amend the process by mandating year-over-year scholarship renewal provided the conditions of the scholarship have been met.

If a player's grades are good, and he hasn't had any extemporaneous behavior issues that the school could bring to bear on the renewal process, and that player wants to be back, he should be, no matter how few points he scored or how many skilled recruits are waiting in the wings. It'd be nice if the NCAA also decided to allow players to transfer after without waiting a year -- if we're not going to pay them, the least we can do is grant them some flexibility -- but let's not get too greedy. The aforementioned changes would put at least some of the control over a player's future back in the player's hands. It would tip the balance. It would be a start.

This isn't right. Everyone knows this isn't right. And now it needs to change. For once, a problem with college basketball is simple. There's no reason a solution shouldn't follow suit.

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