Robert Vaden is officially leaving the IU program, which leads me to suggest one thing to IU fans.
Wish him well.
Earlier this week, the 6-5, 200-pound sophomore from Indianapolis practiced what he preached, announcing his intentions to follow Mike Davis to UAB in the fall. The Hoosiers' second-leading scorer (13.5) and rebounder (5.5) this past season, Vaden will have to sit out the 2006-07 season before having two years of eligibility remaining at the Conference USA school.
His departure doesn't come as much of a shock. When Davis announced his intentions to step down, Vaden was insistent he wanted to follow Davis wherever he landed.
"As of now yes (I might leave)," Vaden said in February. "I came here because of Mike Davis. I love Indiana and I love Indiana basketball, but right now Coach Davis is the only coach I know."
Rumors had been circulating for a month that Vaden had already asked IU officials for a release from his scholarship, a move that would free him up to consider other options. While no one at IU has confirmed or denied Vaden's request for a release, new IU Coach Kelvin Sampson made it clear last week that he wouldn't stand in Vaden's way if he wanted to follow Davis to UAB, or consider other playing options, for that matter.
"He has a tremendous, tremendous trust factor and a love for Mike, and I don't know that there's anything wrong with that," Sampson said. "That's the way he feels."
Vaden's bond with Davis goes beyond simply a player-coach relationship. Vaden's family situation has been a troubled one, and Davis has often served as a father figure to Vaden during his two years in Bloomington. That as much as anything is likely why Vaden has decided to follow him to Birmingham.
Where does that leave IU? Certainly with a large hole that will be difficult to fill. While IU has plenty of capable wings with Rod Wilmont, A.J. Ratliff and potentially Joey Shaw, the versatility and basketball savvy of Vaden will be hard, if not impossible, to replace this fall.
On paper, his departure knocks a team that could have contended for a Big Ten championship down a few notches. That's certainly a disappointment to IU fans, but I'm hoping the Hoosier faithful can avoid demonizing Vaden for his decision, something that's happened to a few too many players over the years.
I've witnessed the fallout for players like Luke Recker and Jason Collier when they departed the program, and I've heard the anger when homegrown players such as Sean May and Eric Montross rebuffed IU offers for other options.
One of my favorite "transfer fallout" stories was that of Lawrence Funderburke, who left IU six games into the 1989-90 season. Once he decided to transfer, his name was no longer allowed to appear on the IU season statistics page, replaced instead by someone named "Other," who started three games and averaged 11.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in an IU uniform. IU athletic department pictures featuring Funderburke were no longer to be distributed or used in in-house publications, an all-out effort to wipe Funderburke from IU's collective memory.
Vaden won't get that sort of treatment. But he doesn't deserve the after-the-fact critiques of his game and his decision that generally boil over as soon as a player is no longer within shouting distance.
Vaden's situation is a unique one, and fans need to wish him well at UAB.
DECKER: On Vaden's Depature
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