THOUGHTS OF THE DAY, MAY 14, 2019
NO TIME FOR PANIC; THE END IS NOT NEAR
Okay, losing Chris Steele to the NCAA transfer portal after spending a semester on the University of Florida campus hurt. And it wasn’t pleasant to have those decommitments from the 2020 recruiting class or that stud linebacker Diwun Black will have to go the juco route, but last time I checked this is May. Football season doesn’t begin until August 24 when the Gators open the season in Miami. The early signing period for 2020 recruits is in December and the final National Signing Day is the first Wednesday of February. So, have the Gators and Dan Mullen hit rock bottom? Hardly. Is it time to panic? Oh please. The end is nowhere close and there is ample time to regain whatever momentum has been lost.
Setbacks happen when it comes to recruiting and while Florida seems to have gotten more than its share of bad news recently, the Gators are hardly the only school out there to take a hit. LSU has the #2 2020 recruiting class but had a decommitment from 4-star linebacker Jaden Navarrette, whose newest flavor of the day is Oregon. The Tigers lost some players to the transfer portal, too. Georgia lost quarterback Justin Fields after one season in Athens to Ohio State. Ohio State’s QB of the future, Tate Martel, bolted for Miami when Fields arrived in Columbus. Kentucky backup QB Gunnar Hoak, bolted for Ohio State, leaving the Wildcats with only one scholarship QB. Mississippi State lost a couple of 2020 commitments on the same day last week.
Those are just a few examples from football. Don’t even get me started when it comes to basketball, whether we’re talking about recruits, transfers or grad transfers. Since Buzz Williams was named the new basketball coach at Texas A&M, they’ve lost Admon Gilder to grad transfer and four other players have entered their name in the transfer portal. In the last four years, Kentucky has had 16 players enter the NBA Draft and four have transferred out. Kentucky didn’t panic. The world didn’t end. Kentucky survived, although I think it might have been scary just how good the Wildcats could have been if even half the kids who left for one reason or another had stayed in Lexington.
Florida basketball lost Mike Okauru and DeAundre Ballard to transfer and Keith Stone left as a grad transfer. Mike White wouldn’t hesitate to tell you he’ll miss those kids and he’s thankful for the contributions they made, but Okauru and Ballard have been replaced already and there is a growing chance that Virginia Tech grad transfer Kerry Blackshear is going to be the replacement for Stone.
Things happen. Situations change. Players come and players go. Recruits commit, decommit and then commit again someplace else. Steele, for example, was committed to UCLA. Then he decommitted and committed to Southern Cal. Then he decommitted Southern Cal and signed with Florida. Now he’s in the transfer portal, which means he’ll be with his fourth team even before he’s played a single down of college football.
Florida will survive. Dan Mullen is already over it and he’ll bring in players who can play who will honor their commitments. Maybe. The same is true with Mike White.
There was a time when decommitments were unheard of just as it was rare when players transferred out. That was then. This is now. For any number of reasons, kids don’t feel it’s such a necessity to honor commitments anymore. There was a time when flippings were rare, but as we’ve seen on numerous signing dates, kids who are longtime commitments get flipped without giving their former school even a day to find a replacement. Transfers were once few because the NCAA rule requiring a transfer to sit a year so often served as sobering reality for a disgruntled player. Transfer rules have been liberalized and kids get waivers to play instantly, often for the silliest reasons (see Justin Fields, for example).
Nick Saban doesn’t worry about losing a recruit because for every kid that decommits Alabama there is another 4- or 5-star kid hoping and praying he will get that call to play football in Tuscaloosa. But Saban is concerned with the transfer situation and in many respects you can connect the two since transfers and decommitments all stem from the same base – loyalty.
Speaking with Paul Finebaum, Saban said, “I get a little concerned sometimes. Are we putting the decision-making in the wrong hands? I think everybody needs to understand. We all have football programs, and there’s a lot of coaches out there who have good programs. Their programs are all geared toward young people being successful. Help them do the right thing. Help them get an education. Be the best person they can be. In some kind of way, there’s a perception that we’re taking advantage of somebody. We’re trying to help them. When we try to make somebody do the right thing, and they can run down the hall and leave, it would be the equivalent of one of your children — you’re reprimanding your son — and he just says, ‘I’ll move next door. I don’t have to do that.’ What are we really doing here?”
Saban has no problems with the graduate transfer.
“I think if we’ve done our job and helped the guy graduate,” Saban said. “And we’ve done everything we can to help him develop, and he doesn’t have a role on our team. He thinks he can go somewhere else and have a better chance, I’m okay with that. But I do think if you have a graduate transfer, you’ve done your job, and he leaves, you ought to get a scholarship back for that. You ought to get an initial back for that. It’s hard to manage the numbers when you have all these guys exiting, which really kind of penalizes the guys that are left on your team and their chances of being successful.”
We are in changing times and for the time being we probably won’t see much of a difference in the number of kids who play the system when it comes to recruiting or the ones who elect to transfer on a moment’s notice. While we do hope that somewhere along the way there is a collective deep breath taken and some semblance of normalcy returns, it might not happen anytime soon.
But whether it’s sooner or later, the games will survive so don’t panic. The world isn’t coming to an end. Tomorrow is a brand new day.
STEPHENS GETS FREE AGENT CONTRACT
Tight end Moral Stephens was so impressive at the Buffalo Bills rookie minicamp that he was offered a free agent contract, securing a spot on the training camp roster. As a redshirt senior, Stephens caught eight passes for 106 yards and three touchdowns.
BELEIN LEAVES MICHIGAN: BILLY D WILL BE THE TARGET
Now that the shock has worn off that John Belein is leaving Michigan for the Cleveland Cadavers – the latest attempt by a college basketball coach to prove he can win big in the NBA – brace yourself because you can bet everything you hold sacred that Billy Donovan will be the target to replace Belein. Michigan may shock me and elevate one of Belein’s assistants or go after some coach from a relatively unknown school in the way Texas Tech did when it hired Chris Beard from Little Rock, but I doubt it. Michigan doesn’t have to gamble or take chances with a coaching hire for either football or basketball. Michigan has the resources and tradition to go after the best and that’s Billy Donovan.
Belein leaves Ann Arbor as the winningest coach in school history but he didn’t win the big one although he did make it to the NCAA championship game twice (2013 and 2018). For all his success and for the well-earned Mr. Clean image, Belein never was viewed as the best coach in the state, however. Tom Izzo at Michigan State holds that distinction and that is precisely why Michigan needs a coach of Donovan’s stature. Having won two national championships to go with two other Final Four appearances and seven Elite Eights, Billy Donovan is the one coach out there who wouldn’t be the least bit intimidated by sharing the same state with Izzo.
Billy has one year remaining on his NBA contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder but he has to understand how incalculable the odds that he will ever land the players necessary at Okie City to win the NBA. If he wanted out, Okie City would let him go. At Michigan, Billy could get the players. Now, granted, Billy hates the shady characters you deal with in college basketball and he despises having to deal with the AAU coaches and sponsors, but he is the one guy who can walk into a room needing no introduction. He will definitely listen if (and when) Michigan comes calling.
ESPN is already predicting Billy Donovan will be the new coach at Michigan. I tend to agree.
SEC FOOTBALL/BASKETBALL STUFF
Needing another scholarship quarterback in the worst way, Kentucky landed Troy graduate transfer Sawyer Smith. In two seasons at Troy, Smith passed for 1,850 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for 264 yards and two TDs.
Upon hearing that John Belein had resigned at Michigan, Alabama coach Nate Oats, a Michigan native and somewhat of a prep basketball coaching legend, released a statement that said, “We love it at Alabama. Completely focused on our job there and getting our family moved down there. I hope my former assistant at Romulus, Saddi Washington, who’s been with Beilein the longest at Michigan gets a shot at the job. Roll Tide.”
Former LSU D-lineman Davin Cotton won’t have far to go for his transfer. He’s making the move to D1AA Southern University where he will be eligible immediately. Cotton was a redshirt freshman at LSU in 2018 so he will have four years remaining.
Arkansas announced that running back T.J. Hammonds is back on the team. Hammonds didn’t participate in spring practice after an injury-plagued junior season.
Kentucky landed a major 2019 basketball commitment from Johnny Juzang (6-8, 210, Tarzana, CA Harvard-Westlake School). Juzang, who reclassified to 2019, is considered one of the best prep shooters in the country. Kentucky has three scholarships remaining and could land a couple more players in the next week.
Former Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald, who signed with the Tampa Bay Bucs as an undrafted free agent, has been impressive with his willingness to play multiple positions at the Bucs’ minicamp.
Even though he is rehabbing a torn ACL and has withdrawn from the NBA combine, Auburn forward Chuma Okeke plans to hire an agent and remain in the draft … Auburn has a strong chance to land Southern Cal grad transfer point guard Derryck Thornton, who averaged 7.7 points, 4.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game last season.
As if he needs the money (he gets paid $7.5 million per year), Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher received a $150,000 bonus when the Aggies scored a 967 on the NCAA APR for academics.
South Carolina could be the landing spot for Clemson grad transfer running back Tavien Feaster. In his Clemson career, Feaster ran for 1,330 yards and 22 touchdowns.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Palm Beach County prosecutors will not be able to use secretly recorded video of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft engaging in sex in a massage parlor. Bet the farm that Kraft will skate … The Orange Bowl will be played at night on December 30 instead of in the afternoon on New Year’s Day. There is something un-American and fundamentally wrong with that … Tiger Woods, who will play in the PGA at Bethpage, New York this week, was named in a wrongful death lawsuit. An employee drank alcohol in Woods’ Jupiter, Florida restaurant and then was killed in an auto accident. I’m no lawyer but I can’t see this one ever going to trial … And speaking of the PGA, Tiger (won the Masters) will be paired with last year’s PGA/US Open champ Brooks Koepka and last year’s British Open champ Francisco Molinari at 8:24 a.m. Thursday.