It was a surprise last November when highly touted Los Angeles guard Isaac Hamilton turned down the likes of UCLA, Washington and Baylor in favor of a UTEP program that has been to the NCAA tournament only three times since 1992.
It was an even bigger shocker this weekend when UTEP coach Tim Floyd revealed that the McDonald's All-American apparently won't play a single game for the Miners.
Floyd told the El Paso Times that Hamilton has asked to be released from the letter of intent he signed last November, but UTEP is denying that request because of the unusually late timing. The Los Angeles Times reported Hamilton intends to enroll at USC, where he could be closer to a grandmother who is ill.
If Hamilton follows through with his decision to leave UTEP, he would sit out a year at his new school unless he wins an appeal to the National Letter of Intent Steering Committee to be eligible to play right away.
"He had two choices - one, not to sign the letter of intent or two, to file an appeal. I'm not releasing him," Floyd told the El Paso Times. "We have made our schedule based on having Isaac. People have bought season tickets based on our having Isaac. It's too late. He can appeal and we'll wait to see what happens. If he is allowed out, we might as well not even have letters of intent."
Some will probably credit Floyd for trying to teach a kid to honor his word, but the stance he is taking seems more petty and self-serving than noble.
In an era when coaches who sign lengthy contracts often break them at the first nibble of interest from a more prestigious program, Floyd is trying to punish a player from making a similar move. Either he is punishing Hamilton for bailing on UTEP or he is banking on the fact that Hamilton will lose his appeal and opt to return to the Miners rather than sitting out a full season elsewhere.
If UTEP loses Hamilton, it would be a punch to the gut to a program that had hoped the combo guard would be the centerpiece of an elite recruiting class. Forward Vince Hunter and guard Josh Brown are still UTEP-bound, but Hamilton's polish and versatility as a perimeter scorer will be tough to replace.
UTEP's loss could be USC's gain, whether Hamilton is eligible next season or not.
If Hamilton plays right away, he'd have the chance to emerge as one of the top perimeter scoring threats on a USC team that otherwise appears to be at least a year away from having the personnel to thrive in new coach Andy Enfield's up-tempo system. If not, he'd be able to team with UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt and whichever recruits Enfield lands to spearhead what could be a strong 2014-15 season for the Trojans.