In November, Studio City (Calif.) Harvard Westlake senior basketball star Josh Hearlihy signed on to spend his future at the University of Utah, spurning the scholarship offers of other Division I programs like Wyoming, Santa Clara and San Diego, among others, to sign on to play with the Utes. Now, months later, Utah and men's basketball coach Larry Krystowiak are trying to wriggle their way out of the scholarship they promised the teen, just because he had a rough, injury-plagued senior season that was related to a health condition completely beyond his control: He was simply growing too fast.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the Utes officially asked the 6-foot-7 Hearlihy to release the school from its scholarship obligation to the senior. No official reason was provided for the request, though it is extremely likely that Hearlihy's health issues played a part; the teenager missed 14 games during his senior campaign due to health issues related to his rapid growth. He still managed to play in six of Harvard-Westlake's games, forming a potent duo with junior Zena Edosomwan.
If the retraction of Hearlihy's signed scholarship doesn't seem fair to you, that's probably because it isn't. What Utah is trying to do makes a mockery of the early recruiting system, when players commit to a program to lock up a scholarship and make sure that other players get to commit to other programs. When schools back out of those pledges, it blatantly takes advantage of the loyalty of a player who openly passed up on other opportunities to commit to their program.
As Jeff Eisenberg of Prep Rally's brotherly blog The Dagger writes, it's technically possible for Hearlihy to refuse to give up his scholarship spot, but that seems extremely unlikely, even if Utah's reputation may suffer as a result of the pulled scholarship.
"I was very excited about going to Utah when I signed my Letter of Intent in November," Hearlihy said in a statement obtained by the Times. "However, the coaching staff has reconsidered their commitment to me and has asked to be released from their obligation. I turned down scholarship offers and stopped exploring other options when I signed.
"Given the situation at Utah, I'm concerned about putting myself in an environment where I'm not wanted. It is still my dream to play college basketball and I will continue to work hard every day to make that dream a reality."
Now, with spring signing day upon the nation, there are few remaining opportunities for Hearlihy to find another Division I opening, and even less time to find that spot. As a result, the most likely future for Hearlihy may come at a prep school, where the teen would spend a year biding time to re-enter the Division I recruiting cycle.
That's a harsh reality for a promising forward who seemed to have a bright Pac-12 future ahead of him just months earlier. No matter how it ends, the way Utah handled the situation certainly leaves a sour taste in plenty of mouths.
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