July 14, 2011
Had 26-year-old ex-felon Anthony Hubbard rewarded Iowa's faith in him by becoming both a good player and citizen next season, the former junior college All-American could have become one of college basketball's most charming success stories.
Instead, Hubbard announced Thursday that he will transfer to a school closer to his Virginia home without ever suiting up for the Hawkeyes, a decision that has to infuriate Iowa coach Fran McCaffery given all he did to get the talented wing into school.
I asked McCaffery when Hubbard signed in April how he could be certain a player who spent four years in prison for armed robbery had truly turned his life around. McCaffery's thorough response impressed me.
First McCaffery described a chat with Hubbard in which the Frederick Community College star explained how remorseful he was for participating in the robbery and how he'd never do something to hurt his family like that again. Then the Iowa coach explained how he confirmed Hubbard wasn't just blowing smoke by asking for assessments of his character from his family, teachers, coaches and even his probation officer. And finally McCaffery brought him to Iowa on a visit to meet face-to-face with every administrator who needed to grant permission for Hubbard to be enrolled.
"I think it was at that point that everyone was in agreement that this young guy matured and he's got all the qualities necessary to not only be successful on the court, but also to graduate from the University of Iowa and to be a good person," McCaffery said in April. "We were all in unison in support of him."
Imagine then how betrayed McCaffery must feel today after spending so much political capital on Hubbard with his administration and then repeatedly defending him in the media since he signed. Making it sting all the more for Iowa, Hubbard had performed very well in summer league and was likely to start immediately and be counted on as a cornerstone of the Hawkeyes' rebuilding process.
"Obviously, we're disappointed," McCaffery said in a statement Thursday. "We invested a substantial amount of time and energy in the recruitment of Anthony. The positive is that we learn today of Anthony's decision versus learning of it in August or September."
The cynical view of the Hubbard story is Iowa got what it deserved for being desperate enough for talent to take a risk on an ex-felon, but that stance ignores the due diligence of the Hawkeyes coaches.
McCaffery and his staff put months of effort into evaluating Hubbard's character and then persuading Iowa administrators to give him a second chance. He owed them more than just an abrupt departure for having faith in him when others didn't.