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.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: Vanderbilt advances; N.C. State tops LSU

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No. 19 Vanderbilt 86, Wake Forest 64: In the first semifinal at the Maui Invitational, the Commodores had an impressive start-to-finish effort in completely outplaying Wake Forest. Damian Jones had 17 points and 10 rebounds while Wade Baldwin IV also added 17. Vanderbilt shot 49 percent from the floor while holding Wake Forest to 32 percent shooting.

N.C. State 83, No. 22 LSU 72, OT: LSU squandered a valuable opportunity for some good non-conference wins by losing again on Tuesday night and going 0-2 at the Barclays Center this week. The Wolfpack used 20 points from junior point guard Cat Barber to guide them to victory.

Ben Simmons had another solid stat-line, but the Tigers still lost. CBT’s Rob Dauster has more on this one.

Louisiana Tech 82, Ohio State 74: Ohio State had won 61 consecutive non-conference home games against unranked teams before losing back-to-back games against UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs went 10-for-25 from 3-point range and Ohio State turned the ball over 14 times. Alex Hamilton led Louisiana Tech with 24 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Marquette 78, Arizona State 73, OT: The Golden Eagles picked up another huge win on a neutral court as Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer finished with 18 points. Marquette’s defense held Arizona State to 38 percent shooting.


Derrick Jones Jr., UNLV: The high-flying freshman went for 26 points in a win over Chaminade and also threw down some ridiculous dunks.

Javion Ogunyemi, Siena: Scoring a career-high 24 points was strong enough, but Ogunyemi also made the game-winning bucket with 2.2 seconds left to give the Saints an 83-81 overtime win over Bucknell.


  • Maryland once again trailed in the final five minutes but rallied to beat Illinois State. Rasheed Sulaimon led the No. 3 Terps with 18 points.
  • No. 7 Oklahoma rolled past Incarnate Word as Buddy Hield had 22 points.
  • In the consolation bracket at Maui, No. 13 Indiana rebounded with a win over St. John’s as Yogi Ferrell went for 22 points.
  • No. 24 Cincinnati remained unbeaten with a 64-49 win over Southeastern Louisiana as Jacob Evans and Troy Caupain each had 15 points.


  • Duquesne held off Milwaukee in overtime as Derrick Colter had 27 points and Micah Mason had 26 points and nine assists.
  • George Washington rolled past Gardner-Webb as Tyler Cavanaugh had 20 points.
  • UMass Lowell cruised by Wheelhouse College as Dontavius Smith broke a backboard during the game and finished with 14 points.
  • Rhode Island knocked off TCU as Four McGlynn had 18 points.
  • Cameron Jones knocked down five 3-pointers and finished with 23 points as Radford upset Penn State on the road.
  • South Florida escaped with a home win over Albany as Chris Perry had the late go-ahead dunk and Angel Nunez led the Bulls with 16 points.
  • Northwestern topped Missouri in the consolation game of the CBE Classic as Tre Demps had 13 points.
  • Saint Louis beat North Florida as Ash Yacoubou had 20 points to lead the Billikens.
  • Nebraska cruised past Arkansas-Pine Bluff as Andrew White finished with 16 points.
  • Tennessee rolled past Army as Armani Moore had 29 points and Kevin Punter added 26 points.
  • Louisville picked up an easy win over St. Francis  (Brooklyn) as Damion Lee  had 21 points.
  • Virginia Tech earned a big win over North Carolina A&T as Zach LeDay had 30 points.


Ben Simmons: Another memorable stat-line, another loss

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons stays setting records.

One night after becoming the first high-major player to finish with at least 20 points, 20 boards and five assists in a game since Blake Griffin in 2008, Simmons became the first player to notch 10 boards, 10 assists, three steals and three blocks in a game since Luke Walton did it for Arizona back in 2002.

[MORE: Why scouts think Simmons is overrated]

To get an idea of how rare that is, Luke Walton is currently the head coach of the Golden State Warriors.

Here’s the issue: Simmons — who finished with 14 boards, 10 assists, three steals, three blocks and no turnovers — was just 1-for-6 from the floor with four points as the Tigers lost their second straight game at the Legends Classic, this time falling to N.C. State in overtime, 83-72.

[MORE: Simmons’ Enigma: Transcendent star? Overrated? Or irrelevant?]

Unfortunately, it looks like the predictions are coming to fruition, that this LSU team, loaded with talent, with spend the season on the periphery of the national consciousness.

There’s a reason to be hopeful.

Keith Hornsby, who averaged 13.4 points last season, is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery for an undisclosed injury. Craig Victor will be eligible for the second semester. Reserves are on the way, and having an athletic five-man and a shooter like Hornsby will certainly help a team that likes to spread the floor and play in transition.

After watching LSU play the last two days, they need all the help they can get. Marquette and N.C. State are name-brand programs, but there’s no guarantee that either of them are going to be NCAA tournament teams. In other words, those two losses aren’t going in the book as “good losses”.

Yesterday, I was worried about LSU not being able to make a run in the NCAA tournament. After today, I’m just hoping that they’ll be able to get into the tournament at all.