Zagsblog overlord Adam Zagoria reported earlier tonight that 2010 recruit Walter Pitchford will be granted his release from DePaul at some point in the next two days, allowing Pitchford to sign with another school.
Pitchford, a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, had signed a letter of intent with DePaul early in the recruiting period and was to start his college career this fall, but later asked for a release, telling Zagsblog that he asked for it because of the coaching change that saw Jerry Wainwright fired and former Clemson boss Oliver Purnell brought in to run things on the Chicago campus. He also claimed to be “concerned” with the level of crime in Chicago. DePaul initially denied Pitchford’s request, and his appeal to the NCAA was also rejected. In an ESPN.com article published earlier on Sunday, Purnell defended his new employers, saying that DePaul was retaining Pitchford because they wanted to run the basketball program “with integrity.” Purnell also voiced suspicion that there may have even been some tampering, by other schools, and reiterated that they weren’t holding onto Pitchford just to be cruel, that there was a principle involved, here, and that he wanted the entire process to play out. Then, just hours later, came the news that Pitchford was to be released.
To be sure, since the moment that Pitchford asked for his release, DePaul has been in a tough spot. If they had immediately released Pitchford, they would have lost a recruit that they wanted, and in the process painted themselves as a program that can be walked on, a basketball team from which recruits are better off escaping. They would have looked like a place that has made no progress in coming back from their recent disarray, not a program doing all that it can to repair itself. If they had held onto Pitchford no matter what, there’s no way they could have come out of that positively, from a PR standpoint. If they’d have held Pitchford to his letter of intent, DePaul would have been painted as a recruit-unfriendly program that holds kids hostage. Even if the reputation would have been unfairly gained, it’s not exactly an image a new coach wants to cultivate, especially in a city as rich with young basketball talent as Chicago. And, of course, you never know what kind of effort you’d get from a player who doesn’t want to be in your program.
Now we wait to see where Pitchford lands, which will be interesting, considering his reasons for wanting out of his LOI at DePaul. We can’t really buy that there was a sudden realization in Pitchford’s camp that there might be crime in Chicago, and while we know that Jerry Wainwright was a nice guy, there’s no denying that Purnell’s resume — especially recently — is more impressive, and DePaul will be the better for his being there. Pitchford’s choice of school will have to jibe with his reasons for wanting out of DePaul. If they don’t, despite Pitchford getting his release, there will be more questions here than answers.