TIREY: Tubby Had No Choice In Regards To Morris

As the Kentucky basketball faithful sit and wait like the rest of us to hear the fate of Randolph Morris from the omnipotent NCAA, I thought it best to examine how we got to this point. For a while now, I have been hearing the argument that the coaching position in college sports has all the power and advantages, while the athlete has nothing. No rights, no benefits, nothing but hardship and troubles.

Mumme left the Kentucky football program in such a shambles five years ago, that they are still digging out from the rubble. The players that were here when Mumme left, got a new coach and were able to go 7-5 a season removed from Mumme's departure, but couldn't go to a bowl game because of the swath of terror he left behind. As of last year, there were players on that football team that had been through three head coaches, and some had been through four position coaches. What happened to Mumme? He suffered through no penalties or suspensions. He was able to go to a small college in Louisiana and continue his career. He parlayed some moderate success into a new job offer from New Mexico State. In this year's Sporting News college football preview issue, Mumme has been tabbed as one of the hottest coaching prospects in America. That is proof that Satan is alive and well in America.

Yet despite the numerous examples like Mumme's, I submit to you that the landscape of college athletics is changing. The athlete, increasingly savvy and intelligent, has started finding ways to make the system work for him. He has started looking for the loopholes, twisting the rules, or even avoiding the system altogether, weakening their foundation. This situation at the University of Kentucky with Randolph Morris gives us a clear look at how the athlete now holds more power than you think.

Morris and his family have played the University of Kentucky and Coach Tubby Smith like my six year old plays a video game. At the NCAA regional this past spring in Austin, Texas, as UK was preparing to meet Michigan State in the regional semifinal, the basketball Cats were paraded out for the media to barrage with questions the day before the game. That team tended to be a little rehearsed all year when answering questions from the media, and that day was no exception. But Randolph Morris got a different question than he was anticipating when he was asked about whether or not he would return to Kentucky the following season. At that time, you could tell that something was funny about the way he was answering. It was almost like he was trying to tip us off, without saying as much. Then he went about his business of going through the motions for the rest of the semester. He had every intention of leaving, and no intention of telling anybody, and that included Tubby Smith. Once he got away from the program, the campus and his teammates, there would be activator of guilt. Of course, he would have to continue the silence in Atlanta with no communication with the media, his teammates, or anybody at UK, including Coach Smith.

That meant he had at least a modicum of power in the whole situation, or some advantage. He needed to be the poker player with pocket kings. He had a beatable hand, but a powerful one, nonetheless. The NBA workouts came and went, and Morris and his father were hell bent to go through things without one iota of Tubby Smith's help. That would be tipping their hand, and would tip the scales in favor of the Wildcats head coach. What Morris and his family did not count on was that the NBA scouts would view Randolph the same way Wildcat fans did in his freshman season. Lazy. Lethargic. Mechanical. Slow. Never mind, Randolph. You can still go into the draft. All of those scouts and executives are lying to keep your stock down. Do you know how Tubby Smith found out that Randolph was keeping his name in the NBA draft? He found out from my interview with Ralph Morris on 630 WLAP.

The draft came and went. No mention of Morris. That's OK, Randolph. There is still the free agency route. NBA teams are always looking for a center. This was just another way to hold the power. Morris thought he would certainly make an NBA roster, especially the old standby in Atlanta. The Hawks would not forsake him, would they? His old AAU buddies were in his ear every step of the way. They would help him, wouldn't they? The answer to all those questions was, apparently, no. All the pats on the back, and all the words of encouragement and promises of help were all for naught. Surely, Randolph had come to the end of his advantages.

Oh, but wait. There was a loophole. If you are kidding yourself that the Morris family didn't know all along that the possibility was there for him to return to Kentucky if he was not drafted, wake up and smell the coffee. They knew. There was a way he could go back to Kentucky. But was there a way he could go back to UK and still hold some kind of an advantage? Now that Randolph has been through the draft process and not been drafted, he can never go through the process again. He is forever a free agent. This means exactly what most people have debating over the past few weeks. He could leave Kentucky at any time. Middle of the season? Sure. Before the season begins? Yep. Afterwards? He is definitely gone after this year, if he does return, barring any injury. Let me give you a scenario to ponder…let's say Kentucky plays Auburn sometime in January. And Randolph gets two fouls in the first minute of the first half, and two fouls in the first minute of the second half. Total playing time for the evening: three to four minutes, with mop-up duty at the end. What keeps him from sulking his way back to Atlanta, and looking at other options, such as the NBDL or playing overseas? Remember Christian Drejer? Or better yet, let's say the NCAA says he can come back, but he must serve a six game suspension. Who's to say that Woo or Shagari would not play gang busters for those games and Randolph could lose his starting position? Does he leave then? Who would stop him?

Now, where does Tubby Smith strength or advantage lie in this whole mess? He doesn't have one. Maybe he doesn't need one. But that's another article. Look at this from Smith's angle. If he said anything about Randolph's silence during the draft process, he would have seen as a bitter coach who was lashing out at a prodigal player. If he had talked too much about wanting to help Randolph, once the NBA scouts had said what they did, Smith would have been blamed by the Morris family for tainting the process by using his contacts to smear the young center's name, only to get him to come back to college for another year. You and I know that Smith would not have done such a thing, but the Morris family was looking for any rationale they could find, and would have easily snapped up that opportunity. Could Smith say anything after the draft? No, because then he would have been seen as the coach who said ‘I told you so'.

You would think that once Randolph had exhausted all options, other than the loophole to return to UK, that Smith would hold some kind of upper hand. Wrong again. What was he going to do, say that Morris could not come back? Yeah, right, and risk losing every top-notch recruit you go after for the next twenty years. No blue-chipper in his right mind would come to Kentucky if he had any inkling that if he made a mistake, his coach would let him have a second chance. Every coach that Tubby recruited against from now on would use that situation to his advantage in every living room across America. It would be the first thing out of his mouth. "Unlike Tubby Smith, and Kentucky, we'll give you a little freedom to check things out at the next level, if you want. And you can always come back." I can hear Rick Pitino now.

Don't forget about Smith's prospects at center, without Morris for next season. If Woo and Shagari do not come along and improve before next year, and Jared Carter can't mature in a mighty quick hurry, then things could get ugly quick. You can't teach height, but also you can't teach those who do not wish to be taught.

So, you grit your teeth, produce a thin smile, keep your mouth shut, and let the NCAA look like the bad guy for you. Tubby Smith had absolutely no choice in taking Randolph Morris back. You just do it, and hope it doesn't mess with the chemistry of this team. I have said it before and I'll say it again. The 2005-2006 Wildcats have a chance to be better than they were last year, with or without Morris. They also have a chance to be worse. They're riding the fence right now. It just isn't all in Tubby's hands anymore. The athletes are gaining some of the advantage.

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