June 29, 2006
RALEIGH -- The final chapter in N.C. State's recruitment of Larry Davis and Dan Werner was written on June 21, when school officials mailed the paperwork to Davis and Werner granting them unconditional releases from their national letters of intent.
Both players signed with State last fall, intending to play for coach Herb Sendek, and both asked for their unconditional releases after Sendek left for Arizona State.
Davis, from New York City, now will head off to nearby Seton Hall instead. Werner, from New Jersey, will go to Florida, also with no strings attached.
It probably was inevitable long before that Davis and Werner -- State's only top-100 signees -- would not wind up in Raleigh and would land elsewhere in some fashion. But the final days, and new coach Sidney Lowe's final decision, played out differently than many expected.
For several weeks, there were indications from N.C. State sources that the situation would drag out well into July, after the next open recruiting season started on July 6. Lowe had passed his NCAA certification test and actually had met face-to-face with Werner when the player (accompanied by his family) came to Raleigh on his own dime. Still, many inside the athletic department believed that Lowe wouldn't give up and grant unconditional releases until he had exhausted every possible avenue to keep the recruits, and he figured time finally was on his side.
There were suspicions that Davis, in particular, had been influenced in the time before he was granted what is commonly referred to as a conditional release, which allows other schools to recruit him. So Lowe felt no compulsion to give Davis his unconditional release quickly, even if Lowe knew he would do it eventually.
Adding to that story is the fact that State plays at Seton Hall next season. While Lowe didn't necessarily want to give up a player who could help hand him a loss, he didn't fancy going into a road game that would subject his team to an ugly, hostile reception above and beyond the typical away game.
Some apparently weren't convinced that Lowe would grant unconditional releases at all. At one point, assistant coach Larry Harris was quoted as saying that the players understood they were going to have to sit out a year if they went elsewhere, and that didn't take much reading between the lines.
But according to several sources inside the athletic department, Lowe ultimately chose to cut to the chase and do what had to be done. Athletic director Lee Fowler (who technically held the decision-making power over the signees) left the decision and the timing up to Lowe, and Fowler actually was on vacation at the time the paperwork officially was sent out.
This is where the rules and the realities collide.
When Werner and Davis signed national letters of intent with State, they were fully aware that they were signing with the school, not with Sendek. And they knew the rules that would apply if Sendek left or they wanted to back out for any other reason. They knew that Sendek was widely despised by an element of State fans, and that the passion surrounding the program was strong. And they knew that because they signed with the Wolfpack, the State coaches would back off recruiting other players.
But the reality was, when Sendek left, things changed. And the other reality was, when it became apparent that Werner and Davis no longer had their hearts into playing at State, Lowe had no realistic choice but to grant them unconditional releases.
Had Lowe gone by the letter of the law and refused an unconditional release, it would have come off as spiteful, and it would have been used against him by opponents in the future. (There also was a strong possibility that the players would have been declared immediately eligible on appeal to the National Letter of Intent steering committee, which would have rendered State's hard line both unpopular and ineffective.) Some thought it might appear hypocritical for Lowe to recruit a player saying he would always look out for his best interests, if he didn't grant Davis and Werner unconditional releases in their best interests.
Plus, Lowe is on record as saying he wants to recruit players who want to play for State, who want to be part of rebuilding State's tradition, who take pride in wearing State across their chest. No coach wants the potential problems that come with having unhappy players on his team, especially unhappy players who (in this case) would have made up the coach's first group of incoming freshmen.
So, in these cases, you win some, you lose some.
DEGAND, LEWANDOWSKI MAY HELP
In fact, Lowe already has won two.
State officials can't confirm the news yet, but Lowe already has landed two new recruits for the upcoming season. For different reasons, the newcomers probably won't be able to help the Wolfpack much in games during the 2006-07 campaign. But at worst they'll be two more practice bodies for a team that would've entered preseason camp with only eight scholarship players without them.
Farnold Degand, a quick 6-3 combo guard from Boston, will transfer from Iowa State after redshirting there last season. Under NCAA rules, he will become eligible for the Pack as a third-year sophomore in 2007-08, although State is pursuing an appeal (based on pending NCAA problems at ISU) that could make Degand eligible this season.
With the Cyclones, Degand found himself in a similar situation as Davis and Werner. He signed with Iowa State out of O'Bryant High for Math and Science in Boston back when Wayne Morgan was coach. After Degand's redshirt season, Morgan got fired and was replaced by Greg McDermott, so Degand never got to play for his coach of choice.
Bartosz Lewandowski, a 7-2 center from Poland who recently graduated from a Maine prep school, was Lowe's other late find on the recruiting trail. Assistant Monte Towe had recruited Lewandowski this past year, while Towe was the head coach at New Orleans. Nobody believes that Lewandowski is an ACC-caliber player right now, but he was the best of very few desirable options as the new staff attempted to bolster its depth-shy frontcourt.
Under NCAA rules, Wolfpack officials can't acknowledge, confirm or say anything about Degand or Lewandowski until after they officially enroll at State.
So, State's immediate future with Lowe is starting to take shape in some forms, at least. Sophomore center Cedric Simmons is officially gone to the NBA, meaning that Ben McCauley likely will be the starting center next season. Horner is definitely in. Davis and Werner are gone. Gavin Grant (assuming successful resolution of his visa problems), Engin Atsur, Courtney Fells, Brandon Costner and Trevor Ferguson also are still around, and Andrew Brackman's future still is being evaluated.
The loss of Simmons ultimately will have a bigger impact on next season than anything involving Davis and Werner. Simmons would have been the offensive and defensive cornerstone during Lowe's debut, the solid base upon which the coach would have built the team. Simmons could have made Lowe's NBA philosophies easy to implement. State would have been a committed inside-out team offensively, kicking in to Simmons, then letting him react and kick back to the wings to shooters and slashers if necessary. That's NBA Basketball 101, and it certainly isn't -- gasp -- the Princeton offense.
Without Simmons, something more of a hybrid philosophy is likely.
That's what Lowe and his assistants worked on at a coaching retreat that preceded the start of the next open recruiting season. What didn't need to be discussed was the topic of unconditional releases. Lowe had pushed that issue out of the way earlier than expected.