By refusing to release a really good player, Utah State only hurting itself

Former Utah State player David Collette still hasn’t been allowed to leave for a new school. (USATSI)

It’s really astonishing how often college basketball coaches fail to grasp the big picture when it comes to player-transfer protocol and their subsequent reputations.

First-year Utah State coach Tim Duryea is still earning his sea legs, and now he’s been spurned by a player who’s seeking to leave his team. Though Duryea’s situation is different than most because of the timing of David Collette’s departure, he still finds himself looking as bad as Phil Martelli, Bo Ryan and Josh Pastner did before each of those coaches relented on the transfer restrictions they put on former players.

Collette, a rising sophomore, told the school earlier this month he wanted out days before the 2015-16 season began. That is rare, and certainly not the greatest timing on Collette’s part. When that news broke, Duryea had the following statement, which was unusual but reasonable in its bluntness: “I was shocked when he came into my office today and said he was going to quit. I think there were a lot of factors in play that, unfortunately, have become a trend in college basketball of schools poaching other schools’ players. I don’t feel good and don’t like how things transpired, but we will move on and get ready for our opener on Friday.”

Well, Duryea has not moved on. He and the school have not officially given Collette his release, meaning Collette is not able to formally talk with, let alone enroll at another school and accept a scholarship. The kid’s in an angry limbo. So now Collette is talking and defending himself — and taking return shots at the USU coaching staff, in addition to airing dirty launder of some of Duryea’s alleged iffy coaching practices.

Collette had a great freshman season last year, averaging 12.8 points and 5 rebounds in legendary USU coach Stew Morrill’s final season. Duryea was a long-time assistant under Morrill, so it’s not like this is new blood. Still, Collette’s done and clearly thinks he can achieve more at a different program. He was candid with Yahoo Sports this week, explaining his position.

“I don’t understand why Utah State would do this,” Collette told Yahoo Sports. “If a guy’s not comfortable where he is or not happy, why not let him go? The coaches and administrators always talk about how they have their players’ backs. Well, obviously not. From what I’ve experienced, they do not have my best interest at heart whatsoever.”

Collette also said that his height and weight on his Utah State bio abruptly reverted back to those from the previous year. The difference between 6-10, 235 pounds and 6-8, 220 pounds is significant to a high-major college coach scanning the transfer market in search of a power forward.

“Who does that? It’s so childish,” Collette said. “I compare Utah State to a bitter ex-girlfriend. I feel like I broke up with Utah State and now she’s doing everything she can to get back at me.”

It’s a bad look, and while some of it is on Collette, most falls on Duryea and the USU staff. The school cannot win this battle. It needs to let Collette go now; it only gets worse for the school by the day.

Why hasn’t Collette been given his release? Pride, obviously, for one. But the stench of tampering from another school lingers. So Duryea is holding firm and a grasping a grudge at the same time. It’s a really bad look. This reflexive backlash from scorned coaches backfires in the form of pieces like this, not to mention easy-as-it-gets negative recruiting against his program from this point forward. Coaches never win in this situation. It’s one major potential downside against many other perks of the job — the chance you lose a valuable player to another school — but that’s what all that money’s for.

The public has always and will always side with the unpaid athlete who wants to leave and go be an unpaid athlete at another school.

Collette, by the way, swears he was not influenced by another coaching staff in coming to his decision to leave Utah State.

“He instead attributes his abrupt exit to a deteriorating relationship between him and Duryea,” Yahoo’s story says. Collette also makes reference to Duryea’s coaching demeanor and an alleged decree for players to keep quiet about an altercation in practice earlier this year.

It’s not a good situation for Utah State at all right now, which was expected to have a stronger season, even after going 18-13 last year. To the Aggies’ credit, the team’s off to a 4-0 start. But that’s not the story, and nobody cares much about that right now. The issue is Duryea holding back on releasing a player, keeping him from moving on with his life and doing potential damage to his own career in the process.

Coaches are usually the last to learn on these issues, and Duryea’s the latest to see why. He has reason to be angry, and there’s a side to this for sympathetic eyes for Utah State. But in the end, once a player decides he wants out, schools should have to grant that right every time. No exception.


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