Thursday, December 15, 2005
Smith finds fax; Morris will return Jan. 10
By Andy Katz ESPN.com
All Tubby Smith had to do was clean out his desk. Had he done that then this whole Randolph Morris mess would have been solved a lot sooner.
Sure, the suspension would have been the same -- 14 games or roughly half the season for the Kentucky sophomore -- but the entire process could have been wrapped up long ago. Morris might not have ever gone through a week of being told he couldn't play for the 2005-06 season. It was only a week before Thursday's revised ruling but it still had to sting not knowing if he could play this season.
The three-sentence letter to Tubby Smith was found this week.
The NCAA requested over the summer the infamous fax that Morris sent to Smith on May 9, 2005, showing that his intentions were to test the process instead of actually leaving for good and signing with an agent.
"We had asked for it but never received a copy of it,'' said Wally Renfro, spokesperson for the NCAA.
So what happened?
According to Kentucky, the fax was misplaced. Smith found it while rifling through his desk this week.
"I had lost papers on a plane and I have been looking for them for some time. If I would have known how important those papers were I would have held on to them more tightly," Smith said. "Somebody must have realized what was in the papers and sent them back to us. If you travel as much as I do you can sometimes loose papers when you travel. [Kentucky compliance director] Sandy Bell told me if I could find those papers that it would really help. I went back found them last week. Thank God I found the papers and we were able to work things out."
Renfro wanted to make sure it was clear: the new decision to suspend Morris for 14 games instead of the entire season wasn't an appeal to the Student Athlete Reinstatement Committee. Instead, because this was new information, it was a re-consideration from the NCAA staff.
The three-sentence fax, the finding of which could go down as Kentucky's Holy Grail this season if Morris ends up being a savior for the post-challenged Wildcats, put a different spin on Morris' intent.
After thanking the staff for all of their efforts, the last two sentences saved Morris' season when he stated: "I would like to announce my intentions to 'test the waters' in the 2005 NBA draft. My intent is not to obtain an agent so as to maintain my collegiate eligibility.''
The case Morris and Kentucky made revolved around the fact that if he really wanted to leave for good then he would have signed with SFX instead of simply just asking for their advice. Morris claimed he wasn't fully aware of the rules when he took expenses in advance, $7,328.96 from nine NBA teams, as well as going to an SFX-paid $75 workout at a Chicago health club the week of the NBA draft camp. SFX then put out a news release saying Morris was staying in the draft. It wasn't until he went undrafted that Morris decided he should go back to Kentucky.
Morris stated in his initial appeal that he wanted to play college basketball and didn't discuss his options with Smith because of the difficulties of making that call. Not using Kentucky as a sounding board and seeking advice from an agent hurt his case with the NCAA.
The Morris family also included a canceled check for $2,000 to the United Negro College Fund to show that it had started a three-step payment process to pay back the workout expenses. A payment schedule was included with the second payment of $2,500 due on Jan. 31, 2006 and one for $2,828.96 set for March 7, 2006.
Morris said in his personal letter to the NCAA that his intention was to remain at Kentucky for the rest of his eligibility.
When informed of the decision Thursday, Morris was naturally excited. He has practiced throughout the season. He still can't travel until he is eligible. His first game will be the SEC opener against Vanderbilt in Lexington Jan. 10.
Morris will miss Saturday's game against Louisville, Iona (Dec. 23), Ohio (Dec. 30 in Cincinnati), Central Florida (Jan. 3) and at Kansas (Jan. 7).
The Wildcats have been searching for answers in the post. Morris averaged 8.8 points a game last season and clearly wasn't NBA worthy since no team had interest. But he is talented enough to help the Wildcats (6-3), who were in a desperate state for post defense, rebounding and scoring after suffering a 26-point loss to rival Indiana last Saturday in Indianapolis.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com