Don’t commit unless it’s legit

Joe Groglio

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word commitment means “the state of or an instance of being obligated or emotionally impelled.” These days in the world of Division I basketball, the word seems to have lost its purpose and become just another pit-stop on the recruiting trail. Last weekend, the truth was finally unmasked: six foot, seven inch forward Shane Clark intends to play basketball for Maryland. You may be telling yourself that this is no problem; Maryland is a perennial powerhouse, and the ACC is a tremendous basketball conference. However, this is not the issue. The problem is one of commitment.

Just about a year ago, Shane Clark, a senior from Cardinal Dougherty High School, decided to verbally commit to play for our Villanova Wildcats. Not only did he commit, but he encouraged his sidekick and closest friend, Kyle Lowry, to join him in doing so. Nova Nation was ecstatic about bringing in this local dynamic duo of top 30 players and applauded Coach Wright’s efforts to once again make Villanova the place to be for Philadelphia players. Having found his fixture at the small forward, Wright was able to move on to more pressing needs in the frontcourt.

But then just about midway through the summer, Clark decided to re-open his commitment. Visits to Maryland and Florida were made, and Villanova could only wait and hope. When he came to visit during Hoops Mania, the most dedicated of basketball fans (myself included) even went as far as to make banners (which were quickly confiscated) and initiate “We want Shane!” chants, as if to make one last attempt to convince the high school senior that Villanova was where he belonged.

As an Augustinian community, Villanova exudes a family atmosphere not found on most college campuses. Apparently though, the lure of the Blue and White family was not enough for Clark.

My feelings on de-commitment are simple: don’t do it. It is wrong to the team, the coaching staff and the entire school.

Some players state specific reasons, such as playing time, coaching changes and others. Clark never publicly stated any of those reasons, and even if he did, it still wouldn’t be right. By him committing to us a year early, it allowed Wright and the staff to stop recruiting heavily at the small forward spot because it would be impossible to sell a big time player to come here and compete with an elite prospect for playing time. Reneging on this commitment now leaves us stuck with little depth and makes us have to scramble to find a replacement in the spring.

This is not the first time this happened in Villanova’s history, but the recruit usually gives what he feels is a bona fide reason. Last season, Keith Benjamin, an off guard from Mount Vernon, N.Y., reneged his verbal commitment to us after a Derrick Snowden injury left “Benji” worried about next years playing time. I live in Rye, N.Y., so this happened pretty much in my backyard, and I still find the legitimacy of this reasoning very questionable. I loved Snowden’s toughness and intensity on the court, but I highly doubt a scoring guard like Keith would struggle for PT against that kind of player. Benjamin ended up going to Pitt, but Villanova got Lowry, so it didn’t affect us nearly as much as Clark’s decision.

And then there’s always the coaching change excuse. I remember talking to Coach Wright about two years ago at a Villanova Hall of Fame dinner about the possibility of him landing a young Charlie Villanueva. We didn’t get him as he committed to Illinois. However, Villanueva decided not to sign his letter of intent in the fall, and by spring time, Coach Bill Self had left for Kansas. Suddenly Villanueva wanted out, and gone he was to Jim Calhoun and UConn. Sometimes the recruits even leave with the coach, as Rollie Massimino brought his stud point guard Lawrence Thomas with him to UNLV, and Steve Lappas took his “prized recruits” with him to UMass.

The point is that it is never right to drop a commitment, regardless of the situation. I compare it to a regular student applying early decision: If you get into that school, you must go no matter what since you are committed. If these are the standards for regular people than why are exceptions made for athletes? Some say it is only a verbal agreement, but since when did a person’s word become meaningless?

While I wish Clark the best of luck at Maryland, I wonder how he will fit into a team that already has three outstanding forwards. What I am certain about, though, is that Coach Wright’s current squad represents a coalition of highly recruited stars who gave their word to join our family and kept it. Keep up the good work, Coach Wright. ‘Nova Nation is right behind you and is prepared to support the guys who want to be here.