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A Price Too Dear

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Every basketball fan of the University of Kentucky Wildcats wants to see the team succeed.  We want to see the coach succeed, and the players, and everyone associated with the endeavor.  This post is about the costs of success, and how some costs are just too high to pay.

Messenger at Wildcats Thunder blog has an important post up as of yesterday.  The post discusses scholarship availability for 2008, and how the author arrives at those numbers.  It also discusses a subject I have seen broached here, and especially in other fora like The Cats Pause, namely "manufacturing scholarships."

In the context that Messenger explores the term, "manufacturing scholarships" can mean one of several things:  moving a player to a hardship scholarship, an academic scholarship, or essentially forcing a player to surrender his athletic scholarship to make room for a better player.  The first two are, of course, something we are able to do from time to time because of circumstances.  They can't really be planned for or counted on.  Sometimes players are able and willing to accept an athletic or hardship scholarship, if they qualify and the school is able to extend it.  But most of the time, these avenues are not available.

The third option is the one that has always worried me, and which Wildcats Thunder spends most of their time on -- forcing inferior players to surrender their scholarship, either to walk on or go elsewhere.  I have seen several people, mostly on other boards/blogs, posit this as a possible option for a player like Michael Porter.  It should never be an option, in my opinion.

Now, let me disclaim a few things here.  I have not heard a credible suggestion that Coach Gillispie was ever considering doing such a thing.  I don't believe he is, and I don't believe he would.  So consider this a look at an unlikely hypothetical.

If Porter elects to go elsewhere because the coach tells him his playing time will most likely be limited due to incoming talent, that is one thing.  That is being honest with the player, and telling him the way it is.  But if Gillispie were to decide that allowing Porter to stick it out on the bench just didn't fit his plans, and de facto withdrew his scholarship, that is were we would have to part ways.

When a player is recruited by UK, and accepts a scholarship offer, it has always been with the understanding it would be renewed assuming that the player was a) able to play and b) willing to comport himself according to the standards of the team, university and community.  All college basketball teams routinely "recruit over" players, because that is how you get better.  The player getting recruited over can do one of two things -- compete for the position or surrender his scholarship and transfer.

I have absolutely no problem with Gillispie recruiting over people -- in my view, it is his job to bring in the best talent he can at every position.  But some Wildcat fans have suggested that freeing up another scholarship is so critical to our success that we should consider "firing" those at the end of the bench.  Wildcats Thunder had this to say in response to such a suggestion:

By now, most of you are getting to know Mitch Barnhart. I just hope you don't believe Mitch will ever allow scholarships to be "manufactured" at UK by running off players who were recruited to Lexington in earnest. If you believe that, you don't know Barnhart yet. This is important.

Indeed it is.  Rick Pitino was (credibly, in my view) accused of running off Rodrick Rhodes to make room for Ron Mercer's scholarship.  The most interesting thing about that scenario was how hard Pitino recruited Rhodes.  The very last chapter in Pitino's first book, which I have read many times, entitled "All Rhodes lead to Lexington" (or something similar, I seem to have misplaced the book somewhere).

My point is, Kentucky has paid a price for its success.  But paying with a young man's future is a price far too dear.  I am happy to say that Messenger and I agree completely on that, and I expect most UK fans do as well.