Wednesday, April 20, 2005


A loss for Big Orange Basketball

I apologize for the lack of blogging over the past 14 hours. I had to run up to Sevier County, where I help out with the baseball games of the Tennessee Smokies, the AA affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Smokies lost last night to the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, the AA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, in front of an announced attendence of 1,929 that was more like 850.

Keeping with the sports theme, I thought a rare post regarding University of Tennessee basketball might be in order. For those who don't follow the team, Buzz Peterson was fired as their coach in a rather blundered manner by Athletic Director Mike Hamilton shortly after the season ended. Bruce Pearl, formerly of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, was named the new head coach, and fan reaction was very optimistic. However, Pearl shortly made curious decisions regarding the hiring of his assistant coaches, and, in doing so, has lost out on what would have been a fantastic recruiting class for UT. First, Jamont Gordon refused to sign with UT and ended up at Mississippi State. Then, yesterday, Tyler Smith announced that he will not be attending UT and has asked out of his Letter of Intent (LOI) in order to attend another school. This is devestating for the UT team, as it was already talent-poor and now will be one of the least talented teams in the SEC and possibly all of college basketball.

However, the real damage may be coming down the road. It seems that Pearl and (in-over-his-head) AD Hamilton are not willing to let Smith out of his LOI, which basically means that Smith will waste at least one and perhaps up to two years of his basketball career (yes, I use the word "career" because Smith is good enough to make a living at this game). Many scorned UT fans are of the opinion that this is "just desserts" and Smith should be made to honor his contract or face the consequences. I think this power play by Pearl and Hamilton is a poor move on two fronts. First, it is poor in theory because the LOI is on the verge of unconscionable (at least, if the case came before Judge Huddleston). By signing an LOI and being admitted (notice, not enrolled) at a university, a student-athlete can lose two years of eligibility under current NCAA rules even though the student-athlete never once stepped on the campus of the university. However, the school doesn't have to keep that student on scholarship for - well - any time. In this sense, the NCAA LOI is the perfect example of what Ralph Nadar refers to as the "non-bargained-for contract" - one side of the deal creates the document, while the other has no choice but to sign the contract or not play the game, buy the car, etc. The second reason why this is a bad move for Pearl and Hamilton is that is political suicide with other recruits. Tyler Smith is well-liked by many players in the mid-state and in Memphis - two of the hotbeds for talent in the Class of 2006. By playing hardball with Smith, UT can expect no interest from the likes of Willie Kemp, Branden Wright, and Thaddeus Young. Without talent being infused into UT's lineup for the next few years, Hamilton had better hope that Pearl is the next Bobby Knight...

Rumor has it that Tyler Smith will end up at the University of Florida when things are all said and done. I guess that will be "just desserts" for UT - watching three native Tennesseans starting for a Gator team that is up by 50 on your own talentless team. Bruce Pearl might be a great guy, but his performance with recruits over the past few weeks has been nothing but a failure.

UPDATE: Looks like Tyler Smith's father is doing as I predicted - ruining UT basketball by providing damaging press for the school. I don't blame him, because, as he says, this move by Mike Hamilton is designed only to hurt Tyler Smith, not to help UT. I would probably do the same thing, truth be told, if it was my son involved.

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