Once again, the injustice that is the NLI comes to light

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If you haven’t yet been convinced that signing a National Letter of Intent is the wrong course of action for a high school recruit, Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton provides you with yet another piece of evidence of the NLI program’s worthlessness.

As you no doubt know, Bruce Pearl has been fired as Tennessee’s basketball coach. The two players that he signed in the Class of 2011 — Chris Jones and Kevin Ware, both top 100 guards — have requested to receive a release from their Letters of Intent.

And to both, the answer Hamilton gave was essentially the same — wait it out, and see what you think of the new coach we hire.

In all honesty, there is nothing wrong with this approach. In fact, if it was my kid in this situation, I would probably give him the same advice.

I’m not a fool. I know that at this level of basketball, you sign with the coach, not the school. You sign because you like their offensive style of play, not their english department. You pick a coach based on how he develops players at your position, not whether the school can get you a position on Wall Street or with a prestigious law firm.

But it is late March already. Both Jones and Ware signed with Tennessee back in November. The late signing period is in mid-to-late May. While the players may have signed on with Pearl, there had to be something else — something about the University of Tennessee or the town of Knoxville or their future teammates — that Jones and Ware enjoyed. If there was nothing to like about a school beyond the basketball coach, is that really going to be the place that a 17 year old high school senior decides he wants to spend the next 1-4 years of his life?

So, yes, I would tell my son or daughter that they should give Tennessee’s new head coach a chance.

But I would also tell them that they need to start thinking about a back up plan.

And therein lies the problem.

If Jones and Ware are not released from their NLI, they cannot explore other options. They cannot begin to build a contingency plan should Hamilton opt to hire a coach that either Jones or Ware does not like. As of today, there are less than two months left for these two kids to make a decision about college, and that time frame is only going to get shorter.

To make matters more complicated, coaching searches are not easy. Coaching searches where a school’s expectations for their next coach vastly overestimates the position’s can be downright impossible, to the point that it is almost painful to follow. Look at Oregon last season. They tried to woo everyone from Brad Stevens to Tom Izzo, Jamie Dixon to Mark Turgeon.

And based on the list of targets floated by Tennessee, they may face the same problems finding a new head coach. There is nothing wrong with swinging for the fences as long as you understand that strikeouts come with the territory.

Oregon struck out so often that it took them 37 days to find a new head coach.

37 days from now is April 30th, which means that if the Tennessee coaching search is anything like the Oregon coaching search, Jones and Ware will have less than three weeks to decide whether or not they like the new coach that Hamilton hires. If the answer is no, that means the two high school seniors will have a couple of weeks to find a new school that a) they want to attend, b) has scholarships available, and c) is a good fit for their personality, skill set, and position.

I don’t want to see that. I don’t want to see a kid forced into a situation in college he’s not comfortable with. And I would hope that Tennessee fans would agree with me.

I don’t think it will come to that. Maybe I’m too trusting in the goodwill of humanity, but I think that both Jones and Ware will, if they still desire, be released from their NLI. Because that’s the way it generally works with a coaching change. The folks that are left will try to convince you to stay, but if their best sales pitch still falls on deaf ears, they let you go.

The problem?

All the power lies in the school’s hands.

The University of Tennessee should not be able to wield this much control over the future of two recruits. If Mike Hamilton wanted too, he could refuse to release Jones and Ware from the NLI’s, which would force them to sit out a season and lose a year’s worth of eligibility if they didn’t attend Tennessee. That is precisely what happened to Joseph Young, who signed with Providence but decided that he wanted to go to Houston, this year.

And while the school can prevent a recruit from attending somewhere else without punishment, they can also cut the player loose without punishment. Look at the plight of DJ Newbill from last season. He signed an NLI with Marquette, but once Jamil Wilson made it clear that he wanted to transfer out of Oregon and to Marquette, the former top 100 recruit needed a scholarship. And it was Newbill that was on the chopping block. He landed on his feet at Southern Mississippi, but Newbill is a Philly kid. I doubt playing in Conference USA is the same as playing in the Big East.

NLI’s hold no benefit to the players, but precious few players realize this.

They are contractually binding agreements that put the power in the school’s hands.

And you don’t have to sign them.

Ask Brandon Knight. He signed a financial aid agreement, which forced Kentucky to commit to him while still allowing Knight to be able to leave should unforeseen circumstances arise.

Maybe one day this blog will have enough influence to convince every high school hooper to follow Knight’s lead.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.