When Northwestern announced that former star forward Kevin Coble wouldn't be returning to the Wildcats' roster in 2010-11 -- after a year of rehab for a foot injury Coble suffered during his rather stellar 2008-09 season -- well, let's just say the decision was mysterious.
Without much information to go on, it was assumed that Coble had merely decided he no longer wanted to play basketball. Strange, sure, but not unheard of. Maybe the kid just decided he wanted to focus on his grades and his professional future outside of basketball. Maybe, in that way, the decision was kind of admirable. And with Northwestern's discovery of Coble-lite in junior forward John Shurna in 2009-10, Coble's absence wouldn't cripple the Wildcats' tournament chances. No harm, no foul.
Turns out, the decision wasn't quite so simple. In an e-mail to Sports Illustrated, Coble wrote that he left the team because of an ultimatum given by coach Bill Carmody, and a disagreement between Coble's surgeons, Northwestern's doctors, and Carmody himself. Uh oh:
"One of the reasons for me leaving the team," Coble wrote in an e-mail, "was in response to repeated ultimatums by [Wildcats coach Bill] Carmody stating, 'You either go on the Italy trip, or you can't be a part of this program.' "
Northwestern embarked on a four-game exhibition tour of Italy in the final week of August, at which point Coble's surgeon -- who disagreed with NU's doctors on the length of Coble's rehabilitation from foot surgery -- had yet to clear him to play. Coble chose to remain with his family during that time and work with a therapist, effectively ending his college career. [...]
"The fact was my surgeon was not releasing me to begin playing with the team until September 15th," Coble wrote. "With that, I was not comfortable being in Europe during my last stages of rehabilitation. The medical treatment plan had me working with my physical therapists until that September 15th release date. Coach Carmody and I met multiple times in July in order to reach a resolution that wouldn't be so drastic, but unfortunately we were unable to come to an agreement. I had to choose what was in the long term best interest of my foot."
For his part, Carmody says he learned of the decision when Coble came into his office and told him he wasn't going to play. That, obviously, conflicts with Coble's account.
It's hard to imagine why, after a year of rehab, Coble would suddenly up and decide to skip his senior year of college hoops eligibility, especially with a potential career in the pros -- if not the NBA, then somewhere overseas -- on the horizon. Why give up after all that work? Why, after such a promising career to date, and a chance to break Northwestern's historic NCAA tournament drought alongside another skilled forward in Shurna, would Coble just decide he was no longer interested in basketball?
It didn't make much sense then. It doesn't make much sense now. Because if Coble's account is accurate, I'm still confused: Why wouldn't Carmody offer Coble the opportunity to finish rehabbing his foot? Why would he consider a preseason exhibition trip so crucial among Coble's responsibilities to the team? (It's a preseason exhibition trip; Coble wasn't exactly missing the Final Four here.) If Coble's telling is right, it almost feels like Carmody was attempting to run his former star player off. But that can't be right, can it? Why get rid of one of the best players of your tenure (even if you do have Shurna, as good a Coble replicant as you could find)? Why not take every possible chance to get to the NCAA tournament?
There are plenty of questions here, and no clear answers. But we know at least one thing: Coble's decision to leave Northwestern this summer wasn't mutual, and it wasn't about focusing on academics. Now we just need the real reason.