The forthcoming 2013 NCAA Tournament ban on the Connecticut Huskies has already taken a hefty toll on the storied program. In addition to watching star underclassmen Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb bolt for the NBA in the coming weeks, the program will also be forced to stomach the fact that disgruntled big man Alex Oriakhi will be playing his college ball elsewhere next season.
Oriakhi's request for a release from his scholarship was granted by the university on Tuesday, meaning that the 6-foot-9 junior will have one year of eligibility at his new school. But how quickly he is able to get on the court is the real question here.
The Huskies are still trying to scuttle their postseason ban through a lengthy appeals process that might not wrap up until July, and even though Oriakhi won't be around Storrs when the news hits, the final verdict will have a direct impact on whether he can suit up right away.
If Connecticut is allowed to take part in the '13 tournament, then Oriakhi will have to abide by normal transfer rules and therefore will not be eligible to play in 2012-13. At the same time, if the ban is upheld as expected and the Huskies are prohibited from entering the field of 68 next spring, Oriakhi will be able to play for his new school starting this fall.
A five-star center in the 2009 class, Oriakhi's defection obviously drew plenty of interest from the powerhouse schools around America, and his list of prospective suitors looks like a who's who of college basketball's elite (Kentucky, North Carolina, Missouri, and Duke, for starters).
The only problem, though, is that there are couple of stumbling blocks in place. The only real restriction put forth by the Big East is that Oriakhi cannot transfer to another Big East program, which makes perfect sense. Along with that is an interesting SEC bylaw (14.1.15) that prohibits one-year transfers from heading to the SEC for non-academic reasons:
"A student-athlete who, upon enrollment at the certifying institution, has less than two years of eligibility remaining is not eligible for financial aid, practice or competition at the member institution. A member institution may request a waiver from the Conference office for a student-athlete transferring from an institution discontinuing a sport, or for a student-athlete transferring for the purpose of enrolling in an academic program not offered at the institution from which he or she is transferring."
This essentially means that Missouri, who will play in the SEC next season, and Kentucky, are probably each ruled out unless one side can conjure up a slick academic excuse. Despite John Calipari's penchant for one-year wonders, it appears unlikely that he'd go the extra mile for Oriakhi when comparably-elite recruits are out there for the taking.
The smart money right now is that Oriakhi is looking hard at a destination on Tobacco Road, more specifically North Carolina. While the rival Blue Devils have already been unofficially ruled out by some as a poor fit, it's foolish and premature to disregard Coach K as a non-power player in the bid to land Oriakhi's services.
As far as UNC goes, Oriakhi's father, Alex Oriakhi Sr., all but confirmed his son's interest earlier this week. "North Carolina is definitely on our radar," Oriakhi Sr. told Scout.com's North Carolina affiliate. "I know a lot of the big boys are leaving this year, so we’ll see what happens."
Wherever Oriakhi lands in the coming weeks, there's still a chance that he won't be eligible to play until 2013-14. So for Oriakhi and his family, the process of selecting the proper location has a few extra layers to it than a normal transfer situation. And because of how quickly he committed during his prep days, it's clear that Alex wants to enjoy the recruiting process as much as possible.
"Coming out of high school he only took one visit, and that was to UConn when he was only 16," Oriakhi Sr. said. "It’s going to be a very careful, deliberate decision."
The race for Oriakhi's services has quickly turned into an all-out sprint as the possibility of adding an experienced five-star big man with title experience begins to set in across the nation's top athletic departments. The checkered flag might still be a little bit away, but right now, the North Carolina Tar Heels are at the front of the pack.