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Devonte Graham is being held hostage by Appalachian State, and it’s not right

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Appalachian State coach Jason Capel (Getty Images)

In the four weeks since he arrived at Brewster Academy to begin his post-graduate year, promising point guard Devonte Graham has caught the attention of coaches from some of the nation's most high-profile programs.

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Devonte Graham (Rivals.com)

UConn coaches wanted to begin recruiting Graham after watching him play in an open gym earlier this month. Coaches from Butler, Creighton, Providence and Pittsburgh have also shown interest.

It's a dream situation for a previously under-the-radar recruit like Graham except for one problem: He can't talk to coaches from any of those schools.

Since Appalachian State has been unwilling to release Graham from the letter of intent he originally signed last November, other Division I programs are not permitted to have any contact with him. Graham originally asked to get out of his letter of intent in February when bigger programs began to show interest in him when he had more success than anticipated as a senior at Raleigh (N.C.) Broughton High.

If Appalachian State were to release Graham from his letter of intent, other schools could begin recruiting him immediately and he'd be eligible to play for whichever one he chose as soon as fall 2014. If Appalachian State continues to hold its ground, Graham faces a two-year penalty, meaning he'll forfeit one of his four years of eligibility and either have to sit out the 2014-15 season or play at a junior college.

"He's very stressed out and confused about the unknown," Brewster coach Jason Smith said Thursday. "I understand the frustration App. State has. They have this outstanding point guard signed and all of a sudden he wants out. But now seven months have gone by and Devonte isn't able to communicate with any schools. The right thing to do would be to release him."

Appalachian State coach Jason Capel did not return a text message seeking an explanation for his unwillingness to release Graham, but there's little he could say that would justify his actions in this instance.

Does Capel have a right to be mad? Of course. He and his staff uncovered a hidden in-state gem and signed him only to lose him so late in the recruiting process that it was probably difficult to find a replacement.

Does Capel have a right to block the school or schools he believed tampered with Graham from recruiting him? That's debatable. I believe coaches shouldn't be able to block a high school kid from attending the college of his choice, but I understand others will point to the need to punish a school that tampers with signed prospects.

Does Capel have a right to refuse to release Graham to any school? Absolutely not. What he is doing is abusing his power to punish a kid for backing out of a contract when more appealing opportunities came along. That's ironic, of course, since Capel and any other coach in his shoes would probably leave Appalachian State in heartbeat if they had job offers from schools in the Big East or ACC.

What's really silly about what Appalachian State is doing is the school has so little to gain by holding Graham hostage.

Smith says Graham has no interest in attending Appalachian State whether they release him or not. The only thing the school will get in return for all the negative publicity it is receiving is revenge on an 18-year-old kid.

The most frustrating part of the whole saga for Graham has to be the amount of interest coaches are finally showing in him now. Since nearly every point guard in the Rivals 150 for the class of 2014 has already chosen a school, the laws of supply and demand have led to Graham emerging as an even hotter commodity than he might normally have been.

"Six or seven schools who probably couldn't pick Devonte out of a lineup have called or texted me about him today," Smith said. "They need a point guard and they've heard about his situation, so they'll say, 'Hey, what's the latest with Devonte Graham. Is he going to be recruitable?'"

At this point, that's a tough question for Smith to answer. It depends whether Appalachian State does the right thing and grants Graham his release or continues to take out its anger on a high school kid.

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