LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- When you have three scholarship players -- all who have had major injury issues the past two years -- transfer out of your program in one offseason, it's going to start people talking.
University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino advised Jared Swopshire and Stephan Van Treese that they were going to see little playing time with the Cardinals this coming season. Swopshire had one year of eligibility left after graduating, but was told his scholarship would go to someone else. He wound up transferring to Northwestern where he will attend graduate school and play immediately.
Van Treese left when U of L signed heralded freshman Montrezl Harrell, freeing up a scholarship for Harrell. He still is looking for a school.
So when junior Rakeem Buckles announced a decision to transfer to Florida International, the chorus grew. Pitino is "running off" another injured player, the refrain went.
L1, C u later, the Twitter hashtags rang.
But in the case of Buckles, that's going a bit far. For starters, a player being "run off" doesn't usually transfer to play for the son of the coach who ran him off. Second, the timing was strange. Why wait until late June to run a guy off?
In reality, Pitino had planned to carry Buckles on scholarship this season even though he wasn't going to be able to play. But Buckles, a Miami area native who has missed both of the past two seasons with injuries and will have to sit out all of 2012-13 to rehabilitate a torn ACL, decided he wanted to head back home.
The of course, is unusual. Usually transfers happen right after the season. The timing of Van Treese's transfer right on the heels of Harrell's signing (with no available scholarship) brought immediate questions (including this column from me).
I asked Buckles today when he began thinking about the move and he said this: "Immediately when Richard and Mark got the job, I started thinking about it. Initially I said no I'm staying, but I kept thinking about it for a while and went back and forth with it awhile until I made the decision."
Buckles said he figured he'd play more in his one remaining season at Florida International. He said he'd get to play in front of his mother and family. He'd get to go back and play for Lieberman.
"It was a very tough decision," he said. "It was just about me having my last year of basketball and trying to make the most of my last year and trying to find a better situation for myself."
"(The injury situation) has been very frustrating, but I've got a lot of time now to work on my body to try and get back 100 percent, so I'll try to make that happen."
As far as anyone believing Pitino "ran him off," Buckles said, "I think it's terrible for people to think that. I wanted to clear that up. I wasn't forced out at all. This was my decision. I could have stayed if I wanted. I just decided Florida International was a better situation."
U of L now stands two scholarships below the limit, after being potentially one above it earlier this month. If freshman recruit Terry Rozier qualifies academically, U of L still will have a scholarship to give, and Pitino said it's possible that the staff could find someone, but that it's not a certainty.
"Rak has been one of my favorite guys," Pitino said. "We were happy to have him rehab here and come back next year. But he really thought about this a long time and met with me about it a lot."
Let's not be naive. Players get "run off" for a variety of reasons. A more talented player comes along. Injuries strike. Personalities clash.
But given that Pitino didn't need the scholarship, and that Buckles is leaving to play for another Pitino, the conclusion that Buckles was cut loose against his wishes in this situation doesn't seem accurate.
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