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Monday, April 23, 2012
Perspective on the transfer process

By Myron Medcalf
ESPN.com

In recent weeks, high-profile coaches have scoured the country seeking young players who might benefit their programs in the future. Others just checked the Internet for a growing list of transfers.

For some coveted players who've recently become available, the future might be only a few months away based on a few NCAA exemptions that lift the typical year-in-residence requirement placed upon players before they're allowed to compete for their new schools.

Lockett
Arizona State's Trent Lockett, whose mother has recently fallen ill, might not have to wait to play.

Last season, as a junior, Trent Lockett averaged 13.0 points and 5.8 assists per game for Arizona State. He represented bliss in a hellish year for the Sun Devils, who finished 10-21 and lost multiple transfers in one of Herb Sendek's worst seasons with the program.

Lockett initially planned to return for his senior season. Then, his mother fell ill with cancer.

The Minnesota native recently announced his intentions to transfer to a school closer to her. "Probably being closer to home for him makes more sense," said Marquise Watts, Lockett's former AAU coach. "That access and then, support and on the other side, support for him. That's his mindset currently. … It's family first."

Most transfers must sit out for a season. But Lockett might not have to wait to play.

Because he's graduating this summer, Lockett will have the option of competing next season under an NCAA rule that could allow him to play immediately once he enrolls in a graduate program at his new school that's not offered at his former school -- assuming he's granted a transfer waiver. He also could apply for a transfer waiver because of his mother's situation.

Both options would present Lockett with the opportunity to contribute to his next school during the 2012-13 season.

Iowa State and Marquette top his list, according to Watts. The two schools are within a short drive and/or flight from Minneapolis. Another program he's considering, however, is not.

Gonzaga is halfway across the country from his home in Golden Valley, Minn. But it's still a possible destination.

Watts said the WCC powerhouse is in consideration because of Lockett's relationship with Gonzaga standout Sam Dower, a former teammate on the AAU summer circuit in high school.

He said Lockett's family is awaiting tests to determine the severity of his mother's illness. Gonzaga won't work unless Lockett is comfortable with the distance and her condition. "A lot of it is predicated on tests that are currently going on with his mom. Those test results come back, it allows for clarity for him or makes certain decisions easier," Watts said.

Wisconsin redshirt Jarrod Uthoff's plight magnified the convolution of the transfer process. The litany of rules that govern transfers perplex many tied to the game. Can a coach restrict a player's options once he decides to make a move?

Jarrod Uthoff
Jarrod Uthoff's plight at Wisconsin magnified the convolution of the transfer process.

Potentially.

Does a coach have the last word?

No.

It's a confusing landscape. The criteria for transfer exemptions and waivers are not always clear.

One high-profile Division I coach told ESPN.com on Sunday that he and another coach in his league weren't even aware of a recent change on transfer rules within their conference.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan's interview on "Mike & Mike In The Morning" last week nearly crashed Twitter. But it also highlighted the controversy surrounding potential transfers. A variety of waivers that affect the careers of college athletes who receive them only add to complexities.

Former Connecticut standout Alex Oriakhi should be the starting center for Missouri next season after leaving the Huskies' program earlier this month. An NCAA loophole could grant Oriakhi, who has one more season of eligibility remaining, the opportunity to compete immediately because the Huskies have been banned from the 2012-13 postseason due to poor academic performance.

"Those waivers, they're based on circumstances. I think they're individualized. The NCAA, they've made rules and they've been able to have some leniency based on some commonsense rules," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "In Alex's case … here's a young man who just wanted to play."

The NCAA recently granted Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe a sixth year of eligibility after he suffered a torn ACL in November and missed the majority of the season. The University of Minnesota asked the NCAA to extend Mbakwe's five-year window to exhaust his eligibility because he'd missed two consecutive seasons of Division I basketball.

But that's different from the process of a player who's leaving school thanks to extenuating circumstances within his family.

Last season, Iona benefited from a waiver that allowed Lamont "Momo" Jones to play immediately after transferring to the New York school from Arizona. Jones, who averaged 16.0 ppg for the Gaels last season, wanted to move closer to an ailing grandmother.

Challenging family situations have posed challenges for programs, NCAA officials and players in recent years.

Former Tennessee star Tyler Smith was allowed to play as a sophomore after a transfer from Iowa. At the time, his father was suffering from lung cancer.

But Seton Hall petitioned the NCAA for a similar exemption on behalf of Herb Pope, who left New Mexico State after former coach Reggie Theus took an NBA job. Part of the school's argument involved Pope's proximity to his Pennsylvania hometown and various family issues. But the NCAA denied the request.

"For transfers, institutions have the option to submit a Legislative Relief Waiver, which are required to allow a transfer student-athlete to be immediately eligible. Such waiver requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis," said Stacey Osburn, the NCAA's associate director of public and media relations, via email. "Staff members on the legislative relief waiver team work collaboratively with the school, conference or committee to develop a complete picture of the situation and then render an initial decision. The length of time it takes to reach an outcome depends on the specific circumstances of the case, and it is common for the staff and institution to work together to finalize the relevant facts."

Tubby Smith said he understood former player Paul Carter's reasoning. The latter was a standout forward for Smith at Minnesota, but news of his sister's cancer diagnosis led to his decision to seek a release from his scholarship.

Carter graduated from Minnesota in 2010 and played the following year as a graduate student at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He acquired a legislative relief waiver from the NCAA.

Smith never questioned Carter's intent. But he did try to sympathize and accommodate his situation.

Smith said he told Carter that he could have the weekends off. The six-hour drive from Minneapolis to Chicago seemed manageable, he said, for Carter's circumstances.

Although he granted Carter his release, Smith said he did it with some reservations. "[The increase in waivers] is a disturbing trend because kids can come up with many [reasons]. That just gives them another way to quit," Smith said. "You signed the papers. This is where you wanted to be. … With Paul Carter, you look at it a little bit differently, but you hope it's not an excuse. You're only five, six hours away."

Haith has experienced the pros and cons of transfer rules.

Frank Haith
Missouri coach Frank Haith has experienced the pros and cons of transfer rules.

Oriakhi and other additions to the team are expected to make an impact next season. But when he left his former gig at Miami, three players chose to leave the program.

Haith said a coach's reluctance to allow a player to leave without a fight stems from the time and effort he put into the recruitment of the athletes who decide to transfer. "The coaches are the ones [who] are real important in the recruiting process," Haith said. "They sign a national letter of intent, which is binding. … I've had it go both ways."

The same coaches, however, failed to acknowledge any parallels between a 19-year-old who wants to make a move and a coach who takes another job.

But Justin Cobbs, a point guard at Cal, said sitting out for a year after his transfer from Minnesota in 2010 felt like "punishment." Cobbs, who's from California, wanted the opportunity to play near home and compete in a different system.

"If it's a good decision and they feel like you could benefit from it, I think you should be able to come in and play [immediately]," Cobbs said. "I think it's a punishment. … If you take something you love doing away for a year, and they see what it feels like, they'll understand that. It's not something that's easy to do."

Hundreds of Division I players have decided to leave their respective institutions since the start of the 2011-12 campaign. Coaches who attended a spring AAU event in Minneapolis over the weekend used the word "epidemic" in reference to the multitude of players who will switch uniforms next season. While they stood in a packed gym to watch top prospects compete in a high-level tournament sponsored by Nike, they discussed the number of transfers who'd suddenly been added to their lists of defections and targets.

Lockett fits into the latter category for multiple schools.

He can play for only one season. But he's already scoring in double digits in a major conference. He doesn't need the grooming that some of the prospects touring the country on the AAU circuit might demand once they reach campus.

He'll be ready to contribute -- depending on what the NCAA says -- on day one. "Transfers have become the No. 1 target in recruiting in the spring, not high school kids because the pickings are very slim by the time you get to this point in the year," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "If you can get a transfer [who] you feel like can be an impact guy for you after sitting out a year, or better yet, with these crazy waiver rules, can come in and play right away because you can get some kind of waiver, it's almost too good to be true."