The story of recruit Walter Pitchford Jr.'s relationship with DePaul has mercifully ended. Given the way the story managed to paint pretty much everyone involved in a negative light, that's a major relief.
The recap: Pitchford is a middling forward prospect from Grand Rapids, Mich., who committed to play for former DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright. Pitchford's father, Walter Sr., claimed that his son wanted to change programs after former coach Jerry Wainwright left the school and Oliver Purnell took over. DePaul refused that request.
The father also blamed Purnell for not visiting Pitchford in Grand Rapids when he took the new job. As of last Tuesday, the Pitchfords claimed they were appealing the National Letter of Intent, as DePaul had failed to let Pitchford out of his request. According to Walter, Sr., DePaul decided this weekend to end the rift and allow Pitchford out of his NLI.
For most of the process, Pitchford's side of the story was the prevailing one. Last week, after being criticized here and in other corners of the college hoopsosphere, DePaul began to reach out to media about Pitchford's situation.
Last week, a spokesman for the program told me Pitchford's earlier claims that Purnell hadn't visited him were false. In fact, the Pitchfords had visited campus and had a good series of conversations with Purnell. Then, suddenly, in a few days' time the Pitchfords seemed to turn on the coach, leading to questions of tampering, with one school even going so far as to call DePaul's compliance office inquiring about Pitchford's status. Purnell told ESPNChicago's Scott Powers much the same:
"The bottom line of the difference here is Walter Pitchford signed with DePaul, and when I got to DePaul in conversations with he and his dad, he re-committed to DePaul. And then mysteriously, within a couple days of tremendous meetings on campus and within days of schools starting to call us about releases and so on and so forth, among a lot of other concerns that we had during that process, they wanted a release. We had some concerns about that. We simply want that process to play out, so we can have our concerns mediated."
Naturally, those concerns are what led DePaul to prevent Pitchford from immediately receiving his release. This is a notorious hot-zone for schools dealing with transfers and NLI releases; typically, most schools grant those releases, but the minute potential tampering crops up, the school becomes hypersensitive about releasing that player. It's understandable. Most schools would have proceeded as DePaul did.
Still, the bottom line remained: If DePaul had continued to deny Pitchford his release, the school would have essentially been forcing a player to play basketball for an organization against his will. Forget all the other extemporaneous stuff; forget the visits or lack thereof; forget even the potential tampering, which is very uncool, no matter how you slice it. Pitchford didn't want to play. Tampering or no, forcing this thing further down the road would have only made it worse -- for Purnell, for his other players, and for the Pitchford family itself. It just wasn't worth it.
Instead, Pitchford will go somewhere else. Purnell will build on what he has right now. The situation won't drag on into the new season. Both sides can go their separate ways. This was the only possible ending. It just took us a little while to get there.