Felton releases basketball signees

New Georgia basketball coach <b>Dennis Felton</b> says he doesn't want to hold any signees to their scholarships if they now want to leave, but the release from Felton may not satisfy the needs of one member of the signing class.

The father of Madison, Ala., point guard Jordan Howell said Monday the Howells will continue to appeal for a full release from the signed commitment to Georgia if Howell would not be able to transfer to another Southeastern Conference school.

Howell and another Georgia signee, forward Mohamed Abukar of Escondido, Calif., have asked to be released from their scholarships as the result of the current NCAA investigation of the Georgia program.

The confirmation of academic fraud and unethical conduct led Georgia officials to pull the team out of postseason play and ultimately led to the resignation and retirement of Coach Jim Harrick.

Felton, the former Western Kentucky coach hired Thursday by Georgia, already has flown to California to meet with Abukar and met with Howell in Huntsville, Ala., on Saturday.

Felton told the two signees they would not be held to their scholarships, but Georgia compliance director Amy Chisholm said Felton was not told until Monday of the SEC rule - bylaw 15.01.5d - that may make it difficult or impossible for Howell or Abukar to sign with another team in the conference.

"At this time we do not choose to release them to any Southeastern Conference schools,'' Chisholm said Monday.

The SEC bylaw states that a student-athlete who has received a scholarship award but does not enter an institution can not receive financial aide at another SEC school for two years.

For Abukar, who originally chose Georgia over Kansas and Arizona, the SEC rule may be irrelevant. According to Howell's father, Rex Howell, the family will continue to press for a full release. Howell reportedly has interest two SEC schools, Florida and Alabama.

"It was my understanding they were going to release him and Coach Felton was going to expedite it so Jordan could attend any school he wanted to attend,'' Rex Howell said Monday. "(The SEC bylaw) is news to us. If the ruling is he can't go to an SEC school, if that is the case, we'll go on with our appeal.''

  On March 31, Howell filed an appeal with the NCAA's National Letter of Intent Steering Committee, which oversees scholarship issues. Rex Howell said his son could be released from his scholarship, recruited again by Felton, and decide to stick with his decision to attend Georgia. But Rex Howell said he does not expect that to happen.

"Number one, Coach Felton has never seen Jordan play,'' Howell said. "He knows nothing about him. You want to play for somebody who knows something about you, even though that was not why Jordan asked to be released.''

Howell said Felton has requested Jordan Howell's high school game film. The spring signing period begins Thursday, and Felton likely will have to do some catch-up recruiting if he has to find replacements for Howell and Abukar.

Felton's starting point guard at Western Kentucky, sophomore Patrick Sparks, has said he may transfer to another school. He left open the possibility of following Felton to Georgia. Sparks would have to sit out a year and would have two years of eligibility beginning in 2004-05.

Sparks led Western Kentucky with 13.3 points and 5.9 assists per game this season. Sparks told the Louisville Courier-Journal Felton "was a big part of why I came here. Georgia got a great steal on a coach.''

Joining Abukar and Howell in Georgia's class of signees are three front-line players: 6-foot-8  Corey Gibbs of Stone Mountain, 6-foot-8 Marcus Jackson of Peoria, Ill., and 6-foot-10 Cassiano Matheue of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Meanwhile, it appears Felton will have his full staff of assistant coaches follow him from Western Kentucky. Felton's top assistant, Pete Herrmann, has been interviewed but may not be a finalist to be Western Kentucky's new head coach.

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