PULLMAN – When Tony Bennett is introduced as the University of Virginia’s men’s basketball coach today, he’ll not only be breaking a tie with the players left at Washington State but with four recruits as well.
But the four – Brock Motum, Xavier Thames, Anthony Brown and David Chadwick – have options, despite having signed binding national letters of intent in November.
If WSU wants to give them options.
Under the rules of the letter-of-intent program, the recruits are bound to Washington State for one year. If WSU does not grant a release from the binding nature of the letter, they would either have to attend WSU next season or they would lose a year of eligibility. If they attend another NCAA school, they would be ineligible to compete and would lose a year.
The school has three options. It can enforce the letter with no release, not release the athlete but lift the recruiting ban so the player can shop around, or give the student a full release with no conditions.
Even if granted a release, each player cannot sign another letter of intent and would be basically a free agent until enrolling in a school.
Right now, the only recruit that has publicly stated his desire to be released from his letter is Thames.
Thames, despite committing to WSU last summer, was still pursued hard by UCLA and other schools up until he signed his letter of intent in November. The 6-foot-3 point guard’s father, Ray, was quoted by Cougfan.com as saying his son would ask for a release from his letter of intent.
“He’s still very much interested in Washington State,” the elder Thames told the website. “He also wants to check out his options and give the new staff a chance to recruit him.”
Thames is from Elk Grove, Calif., near Sacramento, and was expected to challenge for the starting point guard spot next season.
Shadle Park High’s Anthony Brown was the first of the class to commit to WSU, making the plunge during the summer following his sophomore year. And he’s still committed.
“I think I’m just going to sit low and see what’s going to happen,” Brown said by telephone from a spring break trip to Texas to visit family. “Everything is still in the beginning part of the process and I’m not really sure what to do right now.”
One thing that could sway Brown’s mind is decisions regarding the retention of assistant coaches.
“They started to recruit me during my freshman year and I got to know all the coaches really well,” the 6-5 Brown said. “I’m just disappointed to see (Bennett) go because I was ready to play for a coach like him. Now, with him gone, it seems like we’re rebuilding.
“Me and Ron (Sanchez) were really close. I talked to him more than I talked with coach Bennett. I would definitely like to see him stick around, any of the coaches from the Tony Bennett era, that would be great.”
That’s a possibility, athletic director Jim Sterk said Tuesday.
“Given the success of the program I think there’s a good chance some of the assistants will be retained,” he said, adding he would encourage to the new coach to fill from within. He said, however, it would not be a condition of employment. “But I can strongly encourage.”
Sanchez has been offered a video coordinator position with Bennett’s Virginia staff, but has not publicly announced a decision. The other staff members were not included in Bennett’s move.
Brock Motum, a 6-9 power forward from Australia, was considered the jewel of the class.
Motum was attracted to Washington State primarily through the efforts of assistant coach Ben Johnson, whose connections to Australia include coaching, playing and, possibly most important, having married a woman from Queensland.
“Ben Johnson helped with my decision and knowing he had an Australian wife Nicky was good to know also,” Motum said when he committed. “The style of play in the Pac-10 is good and how I thought my relationship would be with the coaching staff were the two most important reasons.”
If that coaching staff is gone, some associated with Cougar basketball are worried Motum will be as well.
Even if he were to stay in Australia, without a release Motum’s letter of intent is still binding.
Efforts to contact Motum were unsuccessful.
David Chadwick has the most connection with Bennett and his wife Laurel. The Bennetts were introduced by Chadwick’s dad, David Sr., who after playing basketball for Dean Smith at North Carolina, became the pastor of a Charlotte, N.C., church. The family is still in Charlotte.
Laurel Bennett was a youth pastor there when Tony, playing for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, started attending.
The elder Chadwick officiated at the Bennetts’ wedding and still has a video of Tony pulling his son out of the surf at the beach when David was young.
That relationship undoubtedly helped when Bennett came recruiting late last summer. Despite the late entry into the race, Bennett won, attracting the 6-9 all-state center.
“Knowing coach Bennett already helped, but only in that I knew he was a great coach and I know what I’ll be getting into in terms of a system,” Chadwick said when he committed.
Sterk said Monday he wouldn’t be inclined to grant releases if anyone wanted to follow Bennett to Virginia.
“One, I don’t think Tony’s going to be doing that, and I wouldn’t be supportive of that kind of move,” Sterk said. “If there was extenuating circumstances, maybe.”
Whoever is named to succeed Bennett may have to recruit all of the incoming players once again. Before he left, Bennett called each, said how hard the decision was and encouraged them to keep their commitment.
After receiving permission from the NCAA on Tuesday to make calls, Sterk will be doing the same thing.
“I will talk to the recruits,” he said. “(I’ll) let them know what’s going on and that we are going to hire someone ASAP, but we are going to hire the right person.
“And (the new coach) will be in contact with them once we hire somebody.”