By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
With the decision by former Evansville Ace Basketball transfer DeAndre Williams to commit to Memphis over Arkansas, Baylor and Kentucky it looks like UK Basketball might be out of the transfer market for now. In this latest round of transfer recruiting Kentucky picked up a commitment from former Wake Forest Center Olivier Sarr and former Creighton point guard Davion Mintz but missed out on Purdue transfer Matt Haarms who ended up at BYU and of course Williams.
But here’s the interesting part. It’s not so much which player ended up where but more so some of the sideshows that occurred with a few of the coaches during the process that proved to be the most entertaining. Most everyone knows that Wake Forest Head Coach Steve Forbes insulted Kentucky alumni everywhere by saying their earned degrees were next to worthless compared to a degree from Wake Forest – take that Tom Hammond and Wendell Berry – but that paled in comparison to what Purdue Head Basketball Coach Matt Painter said about his own former players last week. In an interview with radio personality and ESPN analyst Dan Dakich Painter said some things that turned a few heads in the sports world.
The interview consisted of Dakich asking Painter about his take on two Purdue basketball starters transferring from the program to play elsewhere. He first started off by saying about his former center and former Kentucky transfer target Matt Haarms and former guard Nojel Eastern, “I love those guys, and I mean that about both of those guys,” Painter said. “But when it’s obviously not better for you academically or basketball-wise, I feel for them. Matt was going to do that, but he also got his degree from Purdue. Jelly (Nojel) is walking out of here without his degree. That’s not smart, but I’m really biased.”
So he’s upset that key guys are leaving and that in the case of one of the players they did complete their degree requirements. I understand that. He just lost two key components off a team that went to back to back NCAA Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight. But then he goes on to say, “Matt Haarms is a good guy. Nojel Eastern is a good guy. They want something else out there, and it’s not magical. Sometimes it’s effort and results. I don’t doubt their effort, but you’ve got to have results. If you can’t, I feel you. Embrace problems and embrace adversity and fight it. Don’t run from it.”
So what he seems to be saying is that both players couldn’t create the results necessary to be considered a solid NBA prospect and instead ran off to another school where it might be easier. He added, “They don’t get the big picture of how good you have to be (to make the NBA) and how hard you have work to get there. You’ve got to dominate college basketball or bring something that really translates to that next level. Let’s work toward that instead of talking toward that. Think big picture and think development and think getting better. That’s how it works.”
He questioned their work ethic, said they didn’t value getting a degree from Purdue and then seemed to imply they were a lot of talk and no action. Never once did he mention coaching, or a potential lack of. Now here is the real key point from this whole interview with Painter. He finished by saying, ”You might have gotten your degree from Purdue, but you’re not a Boilermaker if you walk out the door in the end.”
So you can attend and/or graduate from Purdue, help your team make it to a level in the NCAA Tournament that they haven’t seen in awhile and then move on to somewhere else because you are trying to better yourself but he wants nothing to do with you. Don’t bother ever making the trip back to West Lafayette because you are no longer considered a Boilermaker. Interesting perspective.
Now contrast Painter’s comments about his former players with Kentucky coach John Calipari’s comments last year at the Blue-White Game about some of his former players that decided to leave early. Calipari said in true John Calipariese, “I would tell you every player who has played here… they know that I’m here. If I can help, if you want to come to practice, you know. But this is — sometimes you realize it’s about these players now. That’s sometimes hard. But they’re always welcome here.”
Notice he said they are always welcome here. He didn’t say, “They were lazy, they left too early, they quit on me and transferred to another school where they thought it would be easier.” None of that. I’m sure he might have been able to say some of those things about a couple of players and it may have been true. Who knows? But he didn’t.
Calipari went on to say later at last year’s Big Blue Madness, “We do this together. For some that means being here for one year, for others it means more because everyone is on their own path. Some may finish at other schools but they are always welcome home. That is family. That is La Familia.”
To me that is one of the reasons why players of a very high caliber continue to flock to Kentucky — whether they are sure fire “one and dones” or guys that are transferring from another school and looking for a better or different opportunity.
All of those players become part of the Big Blue Nation — forever. They can come back anytime. Calipari will welcome them, the current players will welcome them and the fans will welcome them. There are no walls built to keep certain players out. That’s just the way it is in John Calipari’s Kentucky culture — and it always will be.
With the potential new transfer rule going into effect soon I’m sure more of these type scenarios will be played out. Coaches unhappy because their star player transferred to another school hoping for a better opportunity.
And if they do continue to happen, coaches shouldn’t look around for too much sympathy from anyone. I’m sure that the players and fans at the last school Painter coached at before taking the Purdue job probably felt the same way he does right now. After all, if college basketball is a business — and it is — why wouldn’t a player seek out another step up the ladder of success just like high profile coaches do?