Recruits beware: Wandering eyes are not a good sign

Here’s how it’s going to work: Desperate for a roommate, I will place an ad in the newspaper classifieds. Desperate for a good place to live, you will respond.
You’ll come over, we’ll both ask the pertinent roommate questions and hit it off. You’ll tell me there are still a couple of places you want to look at, but your heart will tell you this is the place to be.
After that, you will sign all the necessary paperwork, tell friends about your new digs, load up the moving van and head on over.
Then I’ll leave. And someone else will pick your new roommate. So what if I made a promise. You’re on your own now.
By now you’re double-checking the lease, positive there has to be a clause preventing such a travesty. Perhaps if this was a real-life scenario, you would be in luck.
But this is the furthest thing from reality — this is college basketball. Read the fine print:
Congratulations on your four-year lease in the NCAA’s decrepit building. The newest slumlord is Pete Gillen, but the revolving door is spinning faster every day. Enjoy your stay.
No, it isn’t fair. But it’s the position a recruit is put in when the college coach who recruited him and convinced him to sign a letter of intent bolts for another program.
While the coach usually moves on to a better-paying job with more national exposure, a player is left with these options: Stay at the school he signed with and hope he gets along with the new coach, or transfer to another school and sit out a year.
Gillen’s story proves there are no guarantees. He signed a five-year contract extension to coach at Providence in November and promised 18-year-old recruit Sean Connolly he wouldn’t leave. Then he left Connolly behind when he jumped from Providence to Virginia. As it turned out, his feet were lighter than his words.
The burning question Connolly asked in Sports Illustrated is, “Why can he get out of his contract and I can’t get out of mine?”
The NCAA’s stance is that coaches are only one part of a program, and that recruits consider many aspects of a school before signing letters of intent.
Monticello standout turned Gophers’ signee Joel Przybilla doesn’t buy it. The 7-footer said he chose Minnesota over Kansas in large part because it looked as if Jayhawks coach Roy Williams might leave the program to take the North Carolina post vacated by mentor Dean Smith.
Przybilla said he didn’t want to be in a position of playing for an unfamiliar coach in a new system, and felt secure that Clem Haskins would be at Minnesota throughout his college career.
“The coach is one of the main reasons a player goes to a program,” Przybilla said. “I knew at Minnesota Coach Haskins wouldn’t leave. He’s such a great coach, and I really wanted to play for him.”
That was also one of Connolly’s main criteria. He wanted to play for Gillen’s Providence team, not just Providence.
Unfortunately, he won’t get the chance to change his mind. The same double standard that confused Connolly and threw a wrench in his career plans has also crossed Przybilla’s mind a few times. He took the same stance, saying that if a coach leaves a program, an incoming recruit should be able to rescind his letter of intent and sign elsewhere.
“I’ve wondered that before, why the rule is like that. Maybe it’s too much of a hassle,” Przybilla said.
But it shouldn’t be. It’s a change that makes sense — which is perhaps the most glaring weakness in the fight to get it into the NCAA rule book.
It remains to be seen if Connolly will stay at Providence under new coach Tim Welsh or if he will sacrifice a year of eligibility to play at another school a year later. But his statement about coaches — “You just never know when they’re telling the truth” — is a warning sound.
Przybilla would have been safe if he chose Kansas, as Williams ended up staying put. But the thought of being in Connolly’s situation was enough to scare him.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know what I would have done,” Przybilla said.
That’s not an answer a recruit should have to give.
— Michael Rand is the sports editor at The Daily. He welcomes comments at [email protected]