This reliance on transfer players is alarming.
The offseason recruiting trail is difficult enough to follow as it is, when John Groce takes several flights every few days and visits every single recruit in the country. Every one. That action's a full time job for reporters and a lifestyle for Groce. How is anyone supposed to keep up when transfers enter the mix? Somehow we manage.
Here's what I wrote about Lee last week when the topic came up:
At 6-foot-9, 230 lbs, Lee is a big body down low, who would compliment Nnanna Egwu nicely and contribute to the Illini right away. His presence would be nice regardless. Should freshman Leron Black not be ready or transfer Darius Paul not be up to snuff, it'd be near vital.
Lee's legitimately good, and Illinois welcomes any and all legitimately good players. Unfortunately, the compass arrows point towards Iowa State right now. So he'll probably end up at Kansas.
Don't expect him at Illinois. Don't expect Rhett either, who recently declared his top three schools and didn't include Illinois (Ole Miss, Tennessee, Miami).
If this were a video game and Coach Groce was tasked simply with acquiring the best overall player ratings, then these transfer prospects would be exciting. They'd be improved player ratings, which means higher team ratings, which means we might beat Bill Self's Kansas team in a gutsy, hard fought simulation. But it isn't a video game. The scholarships aren't simply taken by pixelated power forwards who dunk when you press X .They're taken by people.
For Groce to be recruiting other players means that a current player might be on his way out. That current player welcomed John Groce's recruiting efforts all last season, taking his phone calls and shaking his hand. He introduced him to his parents, his family, his house. He then decided, "Yeah, this is my guy," and declared to the University of Illinois. It's not a business transaction. It's a partnership--a friendship, even.
After one year, that player is ready to call it quits already? Judging by playing time and roster depth, that person is likely Austin Colbert. Does Austin Colbert want to leave?
I don't want him to leave. Does John Groce?
This situation will work itself out, of course, and until it does, we won't declare John Groce to be a Tom Crean - one who forces a scholarship athlete out of his program so another recruit can take his spot. That's a downright nasty thing to say because "Creaning" is a downright disgusting thing to do.
College athletics have a great, wonderful side, and an ugly, jaded old businessman side. The great side is made of loyalty. It's made of college guys being pals, playing a sport, and owning the school as much as the school owns them. It creates a happy community of current and former students in a perpetuating cycle. When you get old enough, you can wear an orange crew neck and chide referees to "let the boys play." These are great things.
The bad things are money, the NCAA's dumb rules, prioritizing winning over graduating, dishonesty and distrust. Creaning is those things. Here's the most egregious of Crean's violations.
Matt Roth committed to Indiana during the Kelvin Sampson fiasco and didn't decommit, although he could have. He stayed at IU and played for the Hoosiers during their lowest low stretch. His freshman season, Indiana won six games. Six. His sophomore season, Roth redshirted with injury while Indiana got a little better. Then his redshirt sophomore season, even better. And finally, in his fourth season with Indiana, Matt Roth played in 34 games for an Indiana team that made the Sweet 16. It was a nice story--a central Illinois kid who worked hard, shot the ball well and ended up successful.
Then Crean cut his scholarship. Roth had one more year of eligibility and intended to use it at Indiana, but Crean never gave him the option. He didn't even outright tell Roth his decision. He just let the poor kid figure it out.
Roth said even though Crean didn't directly address his status, he did tell Roth to use him as a reference for any job applications. He said he appreciated that, but it also allowed him to read between the lines.
"You kind of put one and one together there," Roth said.
That's from a 2012 ESPN article. Roth's words read like a shell shock victim and who can blame him. He trudged through the trash and wasn't allowed to stay on to enjoy the finished product. Indiana began that season ranked No. 1 and Matt Roth looked for a job. It's awful.
I'm not saying John Groce is doing that. No one should say that. Those are fighting words in a saloon and you'd deserve that ass-beating, slandering a man like that.
But the transfer stream in and out of this program since John Groce took over as head coach raises a few questions. Again, I'm not saying he's Creaning players. But Austin Colbert looks to be on his way out, and it doesn't sound like he wants to leave. There are red flags.
Please don't be a Tom Crean, John. Please.