Missouri, Evansville engage in public battle over Dru Smith transfer waiver

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Missouri and Evansville are engaging in an increasingly public battle over the offseason transfer of junior guard Dru Smith.

After a promising sophomore season in which Smith averaged 13.7 points and 4.6 assists per game for the Purple Aces, he opted to transfer to the Tigers when Evansville fired head coach Marty Simmons and replaced him with Walter McCarty.

Smith’s transfer to Missouri didn’t come as any sort of surprise. He was also expected to miss the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules. But when Missouri was granted an NCAA waiver that allowed another offseason transfer, guard Mark Smith from Illinois, to play right away, questions started to arise if Dru Smith (unrelated to Mark) might also be receiving a waiver to play this season.

On Monday, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Ben Frederickson wrote a scratching column that directly accused Evansville of preventing Smith from receiving a waiver to play right away — citing a source close to Smith.

From Frederickson’s column:

Don’t blame the NCAA for this one.

The answer is Evansville.

The NCAA denied Mizzou’s initial attempt to secure a waiver for Dru Smith. A source close to the player confirmed Monday that Evansville did not cooperate with the waiver request. An Evansville spokesman declined to comment on the program’s stance. It was unclear Monday if Mizzou can challenge the NCCA ruling.

There is a lot of he-said, he-said going on between Mizzou and Evansville. That’s common in these situations. But the big picture seems clear. Evansville changed coaches because it wanted a fresh start, but it does not think Dru Smith deserves the same. The Purple Aces have planted a petty flag.

On Wednesday, Evansville responded to those accusations with a long public statement from athletics director Mark Spencer. Spencer and the Purple Aces are claiming that they’ve cooperated with Missouri’s waiver request, but they also refuse to support inaccurate statements about Smith’s transfer.

Evansville is claiming that Missouri wanted the Purple Aces to admit in the waiver claim that they had “run off” Smith so that he didn’t have a place on the team thanks to the coaching change. Spencer denied the “run off” claims, stating that Smith, and all Evansville players, were properly notified about everything involving the coaching change while being given the opportunity to sign financial aid agreements for the future.

In the statement, Evansville also said that Smith emailed Spencer informing him of his decision to transfer on March 29th — six days after McCarty was hired. In the transfer email, Smith told Spencer his reason for leaving was, “mainly because the opportunities that I have are too hard to pass up.” Evansville also said that Smith was publicly supportive of the McCarty hiring when it happened.

Based on Evansville’s thorough response to Frederickson’s claims, it appears that they’ve been willing to help Missouri’s waiver process — but only if that process was truthful in their eyes. While Missouri is likely frustrated that they can’t get Smith eligible right away when they could use another point guard option, you also can’t fault Evansville for wanting to protect the integrity of their program.

It’ll be interesting to see if Missouri, or any Missouri-based columnists, respond to Evansville’s side of things.

For now, Smith is still scheduled to sit out the 2018-19 season based on NCAA transfer rules.