Men's Basketball

More athletes taking option of quitting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — I quit.

It's unlikely Larry Drew II or Wally Judge spoke that brief but complete sentence when changing their status, but that's what happened.

They quit their teams during the season, leaving teammates and programs to adjust to their absence.

They're not the only ones. At least seven major-college players have walked away from their teams this season, two at Kansas State.

Not dismissed or suspended, but quit.

Their coaches haven't and won't say much about it.

"The situation," North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said of Drew, "is unusual, and I'll leave it at that."

But changing environments by quitting or transferring is becoming a more prevalent exit strategy in sports. And it's being used more often than in the past, according to a Kansas City sports psychologist.

"In big-time college athletic programs, I think you're seeing athletes who don't know how to deal with negativity and failure," said Dr. Andrew Jacobs, who has worked with college and professional athletes.

Besides Judge, the Wildcats lost center Freddy Asprilla. Minnesota guard Devoe Joseph and Southern California guard Bryce Jones left their teams in January. California guard Gary Franklin left at semester to transfer to Baylor.

West Virginia forward Dan Jennings gave quitting a visual when he walked away from the bench during a game last month, a move Coach Bob Huggins called "unexcused, inexcusable, never to be seen again, I guess."

Leaving programs after a season has become commonplace in college basketball. Two years ago, Rivals.com tried to count Division I transfers after the 2008 season. The number was just more than 300, nearly one for every major-college program, and the list wasn't complete, according to the site. By an unofficial ESPN count, more than 400 started this season as transfers.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard, whose program the last few years has run the gamut from losing a player after the start of a season, to losing transfers like Wesley Johnson and possibly adding transfers like Korie Lucious, suspended from Michigan State, calls the migration "absolutely amazing."

But J. Patrick Dobel, a University of Washington professor and the Huskies' faculty athletic representative, suggests that to an athlete there's a difference between quitting and leaving.

"I don't know if they think they're quitting, but that they're leaving because they no longer fit," said Dobel, who has served as president of the Pacific-10. "In today's athletic culture, it's about dreams of playing at the next level and more playing time, and kids know if they're not getting it where they're at they can somewhere else."

The culture has changed. Consider the path of many highly regarded prospects. Kids become recruiting targets as early teenagers. Prospects get assigned stars by recruiting services. Fans become obsessive, and how can this not affect the mind-set of a promising young athlete and the family?

And not in a positive way.

"This is generalizing, but a lot of kids have this feeling of entitlement," Jacobs said. "They've grown up in situations where everything's been given to them."

Except the wherewithal to deal with adversity, Jacobs said. When things go badly, athletically perhaps for the first time, the player who has never been benched or disciplined or been the subject of a coach's tirade chooses to walk away rather than work through the problem.

"What you're not seeing is the athlete looking in the mirror, and asking 'What can I do to improve this situation?' " Jacobs said.

A reduction in playing time and stature appeared to be the cause of Drew's stunning departure last week.

He's a junior who started every game last year and the first 17 this season before losing his job to freshman Kendall Marshall. Drew bore the brunt of fans' criticism for last year's team that followed a national championship season with an NIT appearance.

But Williams often came to Drew's defense. After not starting Drew for four games, Williams received a telephone call from Drew's father, Atlanta Hawks coach and former Missouri standout Larry Drew, telling him his son was leaving the team.

"In 15 years at Kansas, I had three players transfer," Williams said. "In two years here, we've had three. It's absurd."

At Kansas, Williams lost Darrin Hancock, who left after his junior year, transferring to Indiana State. Hancock stayed in school for one month and never played for the Sycamores. Ben Davis transferred to Arizona, and Marlon London to DePaul. Two others transferred to Division II programs.

At North Carolina, Williams unexpectedly lost the Wear twins, Travis and David, after last season. They have transferred to UCLA.

But the in-season departure has him miffed.

"He evidently wasn't happy," Williams said.

Presumably, none of those who left were. Franklin told his coach, Rick Montgomery, he couldn't realize his NBA dream coming off the bench at Cal. Joseph had been suspended for the first six games this season.

Teammates said Asprilla no longer wanted to play for K-State Coach Frank Martin.

"Sometimes guys can't handle Frank," is how it was described by senior forward Curtis Kelly, who is currently involved in his own eligibility issues.

Martin referred to Judge's "emotional situations, he just has not been enjoying it."

Disenchantment with playing time and being on the receiving end of a coach's tirade are age-old issues. The response has changed. Leaving, even at mid-season, is the option once rarely considered. Not anymore.

"I don't know that you find a real bitterness," Dobel said. "It's more of a business decision, a passionate business decision."

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