DePaul's battle with recruit Walter Pitchford, Jr. ended earlier this week when the school granted Pitchford a release from his National Letter of Intent. Pitchford originally signed with former coach Jerry Wainwright, and blamed the coaching transition for his decision to leave; DePaul delayed the decision over concerns that Pitchford had been tampered with by other schools after his commitment. According to a DePaul spokesman, one school went so far as to call DePaul's compliance office about Pitchford's eligibility.
So, yes, DePaul had its reasons to try to hold on to Pitchford. By the end of the saga, though, the school made the right decision. Pitchford didn't want DePaul. Tampering concerns or no, Pitchford needed to go. Unsavory but simple. It was the only way.
The Blue Demons aren't the only rebuilding Big East program dealing with an NLI standoff, though. In early June, Providence recruit Joseph Young asked for a release from his letter of intent, citing his desire to stay home in Houston and tend to his aunt, who is awaiting a heart transplant. Friars coach Keno Davis denied that request, saying he and his staff "expect [Young] will honor that commitment." This displeased the Young family, and understandably so.
In the six weeks since, things have gotten worse. Michael Young, Joseph's father, told the Providence Journal's Kevin McNamara that his son isn't planning to enroll at Providence at all. The family has filed an appeal to the school, and could file an appeal to the NLI committee next:
“Right now, Joe doesn’t even want to discuss school. My sister is what’s important to him. The kid is in shambles,” Michael Young said. [...] “Coach Keno is a bright guy and I understand how the coaching game works, but with what Joe is going through I would never hold a kid back,” Michael Young said. “The way the kid trusted him and believed in him, and now he doesn’t even want to talk about school.”
According to McNamara, Davis isn't budging from his earlier comments. The reason? The situation is a bit more complicated than a sick family member:
One school of thought has Young pledging to PC last summer when the Friars were the best offer on the table. At the time, it was clear that then-Houston coach Tom Penders was considering retirement and would not be around for Joseph’s college career. Sure enough, Penders did retire after leading the Cougars to an NCAA Tournament berth. He was replaced by James Dickey, who quickly chose to rehire Michael Young as the program’s director of operations and performance enhancement. Dickey’s hiring certainly makes staying home and playing in Houston a better option for local prospects such as Joseph Young.
In other words, Davis is concerned -- much as DePaul was -- that his recruit's reasons for leaving are less than transparent. His father is newly hired at a hometown school. No one around the Young family would ever say so, but the concern is valid. No coach wants to lose a recruit; signing players is a long slog that requires countless hours and resources, and losing one after the barn door is already shut has to feel like a kick in the stomach. That goes double for programs like DePaul and Providence, which need every recruit they can get.
In the end, though, Providence almost has to make the same decision as DePaul. The reasons don't matter. Young doesn't want to play for Providence. He doesn't plan to enroll. Forcing him to do so -- or forcing him to incur the wrath of his NLI, which means a loss of one season of competition -- seems overly harsh, even if the prospect has been openly tampered with. The Dagger's Jeff Eisenberg hits the nail on the head:
If Young wants to be closer to his ailing aunt, Providence should release him. If Young is concerned about the direction of the program under Davis, Providence should release him. And if Young simply wants to play for Dickey and his father at Houston, Providence has made its point about the potential tampering and it should still release him. It's a complicated story, but the solution is simple.
Exactly. Providence has made its point. There's nothing to be gained from continuing the standoff. Young is already unlikely to enroll at Providence. But there is something greater at stake here: Davis' reputation among prospects. No coach or program wants to be seen as a punitive, unfriendly leader. That doesn't help anybody, and even if you're in the most dire, talent-related straights, the opportunity cost of that perception is much greater than losing a player like Joseph Young.
The Friars' hands are tied. They have to release Young. They may not like it, but it's the only way this saga can end.