Coombs-McDaniel gets a second chance

In April, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel did the sort of thing that can quickly derail college hoops careers: He and two friends were arrested with 5.6 grams of marijuana, a grinder and a package of blunts during Connecticut's Spring Weekend, an annual weekend of parties before students lock in for final exams.

Coombs-McDaniel was charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Two weeks later, the school announced that Coombs-McDaniel was leaving the Connecticut men's basketball program. The sophomore swingman insisted the two incidents were unrelated -- he said the decision to leave was made before the arrest, and his primary reason for transferring would be playing time -- but even so, it was hard not to view the situation as one in which another promising young athlete had lost much of what he'd earned by making one minor, foolish, totally-not-worth-it decision.

Fortunately for Coombs-McDaniel, it doesn't appear that decision will haunt him for the rest of his career. From the Associated Press:

Former Connecticut forward Jamal Coombs-McDaniel was admitted Wednesday into a state drug education program that could leave him without a criminal record.

Rockville Superior Court Judge Laura F. Baldini accepted Coombs-McDaniel's application for the program for first-time offenders and ordered him to take 10 drug education classes and perform 75 hours of community service. Misdemeanor drug charges will be dismissed if he complies with the requirements in the next year.

That is entirely good news for Coombs-McDaniel and, if I may so say myself, an entirely reasonable punishment for a first-time marijuana arrestee.

Don't worry: I'm not going to launch into a diatribe on American drug law. Another time, maybe. Though it is worth noting that Connecticut lawmakers just passed a law, set to go into effect on July 1, that will decriminalize possession of marijuana if the quantity is less than a half-ounce. Instead of facing potential jail time, violators will pay a $150 fine. Coombs-McDaniel was charged under the current law, which again, could have landed him in jail.

That doesn't seem all that necessary here, but the ultimate punishment is fair: Coombs-McDaniel will feel some measure of consequence for his mistake, but he won't be saddled with a criminal record for the rest of his career. Nor does he have to spend time in the pokey. Win-win.

After the hearing, the sophomore again apologized to Connecticut fans for his mistake. Next up: Figuring out where to go from here. Coombs-McDaniel told the AP he was leaning toward taking his talents to Hofstra:

"I went down there last weekend and had a good trip," he said. "I like the coaches and the whole situation. The head coach is from Massachusetts. I've known (assistant) coach Wayne Morgan from since I was younger. So it's a good situation. I'll probably take Missouri out of it, because they just signed a kid. But I haven't made my decision yet."

He'd have to sit out a year at Hofstra to fulfill the transfer eligibility requirements, but the move does make some sense, especially considering Coombs-McDaniel's desire for more playing time. In any case, the kid just got a second chance. Even better, he seems to realize how important -- and how rare -- these second chances can be.