WSU basketball player Que Johnson is set to graduate and transfer from Ernie Kent's program, and it appears his former coach has exercised his NCAA-granted "right" to restrict Johnson's eventual destination, according to Johnson's former AAU coach.
@JonRothstein @CBSSports did Que tell you that wazzu blocked the whole pac plus every school they are playing in 16-17. Is that fair?— Eleate (@EleateSports) April 13, 2016
In case you're wondering, that list would be 23 schools long -- 11 other Pac-12 members and 12 non-conference opponents. The list could be as long as 29 if any potential opponents in a non-conference tournament are also included.
When contacted, WSU had no official comment, and while Kent has not spoken on the veracity of the tweet specifically, he did issue a non-denial/sorta confirmation at his signing day news conference this morning.
"I want to say one thing on that, and lets keep the focus on this because this is the signing day for a great player and family to come into our program, and I don’t want to take away his spotlight in talking about those other things," Kent said. "But there are some issues there that I cannot discuss with the university and Que that I don’t need to discuss for that matter and yes there are some stipulations there now but there are also over 300 Division I schools he can attend and I’ll leave it at that for right now."
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The Tacoma, Wash., product joins Milan Acquaah and Jeff Pollard in the 2016 recruiting class, though several others will likely be added in the next few weeks.
This is not an uncommon practice in the NCAA; however, it's still (at the very least) unseemly. You're dealing with supposedly "amateur" "student-athletes" whom the NCAA takes every opportunity to remind us are really just normal students who happen to play a sport. Yet -- unlike every other student on campus who wants to change schools and continue their activity, whether it be music or theater or whatever -- their former school is allowed to tell them where they can and cannot continue playing their sport of choice.
It becomes even more odious when applied to a graduate transfer such as Johnson, who came to school as a partial qualifier but earned his degree in the subsequent four years. Yes, the grad transfer rule is generally seen as some sort of "loophole" for players who want to change schools without penalty (since most of them don't finish graduate degrees), but ... did both sides here not already get everything they should have wanted out of the "student-athlete" arrangement? WSU got four years of Johnson's services, and Johnson got his degree. That should be enough to cut a guy loose with no restrictions.
Coaches use this controversial power for reasons ranging from simply protecting their own interests, to attempting to "punish" the outgoing player, to trying to keep them from moving to a program the coach thinks has potentially tampered with the player; it's unclear which of these is motivating Ernie Kent.
But really, does it matter? In effect, the player is told by the coach, Quit complaining! We still have assured you plenty of options, and if it doesn't include the one you want, well I guess you should have thought of that before you screwed *me* over by leaving *me* when *I* really needed you.
It's a bad look for coaches in general, and it's an even worse look for a guy who led WSU to its worst season since 2003 and has now seen nine players transfer since he took over two years ago, including all five players from his first recruiting class and another from his second.
Beyond that, Kent has always tried to position himself as a player's coach, an advocate for his guys, whom he often talks about in paternal tones. We heard a lot of that sort of talk when he took over and throughout his first season. And he was all gung-ho about Johnson exploring his options a few weeks ago, probably because he was certain that Que would be told by the NBA that he wasn't going to get drafted. In Kent's eyes, everyone would win -- Que would get an honest assessment before inevitably coming back, and Kent would appear to have done what was best for the player. Win-win.
But now that Que isn't turning pro and wants to finish his career at another school? Kent's going to look out for himself, rather than for his player.
I'm not going to pretend this is unusual. This is pretty much every coach in the NCAA. But context matters here, and this is just another brick in the wall, so to speak, given all the losses and the hypocritical statements and actions from Kent. From the outside, it's starting to feel like we're being sold snake oil. And given the spate of departures from inside the program over just two seasons, it's hard not to wonder if the players aren't starting to feel the same way.
At the very least, the players who remain now have to be wondering if Ernie Kent means it when he says he'll take care of them.
Good luck, Que. Congratulations on your degree, and I hope you light the world on fire wherever you end up.