Four hours after the appeals hearing that determined if Florida International would release him from his scholarship as he requested, sophomore Dominique Ferguson checked his email to see if he'd gotten a response.
The email he found left him angry and flabbergasted.
An appeals panel consisting of three FIU board members refused to grant Ferguson his release, meaning the former highly touted recruit would have to pay his own way to play basketball at another Division I college. The panel members wrote they believed it would be more "beneficial" to Ferguson to stay at FIU even though he'd just explained he no longer felt comfortable after the firing of coach Isiah Thomas and he wanted to attend school closer to his family in Indianapolis.
"They've given schools way too much power to tell another human being what they can and can't do," Ferguson said. "They've never met me before. They don't know me from the next athlete. For them to tell me it would be more beneficial to stay here, it's kind of a slap in the face."
Unable to transfer and unwilling to remain at FIU, Ferguson decided Monday night that he will enter the NBA draft, as first reported earlier Tuesday by CBSSports.com. The 6-foot-8 forward was once a top 100 prospect, but he would be very unlikely to be drafted this June after averaging 8.7 points and 6.2 rebounds this past season for an FIU team that lost 21 games last season.
Ferguson stopped short of saying FIU was forcing him to enter the draft by not releasing him from his scholarship, but he acknowledged he only began considering this option once he lost his appeal. An FIU spokesman did not return an email seeking comment from athletic director Pete Garcia or new coach Richard Pitino.
"My dream is to play basketball professionally just like every other athlete," Ferguson said. "I feel realistically that if I can't get my release and go to another school, I might as well take that next step. Who knows if I'd ever get my release? Nobody really knows."
Ferguson's predicament may be the most galling of a flurry of similar incidents this month at a handful of other schools across the country.
Wisconsin endured a spate of negative national publicity last week after initially preventing promising freshman forward Jarrod Uthoff from contacting 26 schools. South Carolina has also made headlines for not releasing Damontre Harris to NC State because of tampering allegations. And Tulsa won't publicly explain why it won't give six of the nine schools on star guard Jordan Clarkson's transfer list permission to speak with him.
What makes FIU's stance especially controversial is that a coaching change preceded Ferguson's request to transfer.
Ferguson was the most high-profile recruit Thomas signed in his rocky three-year tenure at FIU, an athletic forward also recruited by the likes of Arizona, Indiana and Kentucky. When Garcia fired Thomas and his staff one month after the season ended with no warning, Ferguson decided it was time for him to move on too.
Part of Ferguson's inspiration was also to be closer to his family, whom he hadn't seen more than a handful of times the past three years while playing in prep school and at FIU. Ferguson is the eldest child in a large family that resides in Indianapolis.
"I have a lot of younger sisters who look up to me and don't see me," Ferguson said. "I know they're sad they can't see me. That's why for someone to tell me it's beneficial for me to stay here, that makes no sense to me. Who are you to tell me what's beneficial for me when you just met me today?"
Ferguson began his attempt to transfer with a meeting with Garcia the week after the April 6 firing of Thomas. When Garcia told him no, Ferguson appealed the decision and later met separately with the school president and with Pitino to no avail.
Since Pitino wasn't hired from Louisville until April 16, Ferguson said his role in the process has been minimal.
"He has no say on any of this," Ferguson said. "We did have a meeting when he got here. He said he was going to try to help me get my release. I don't know how true that is, but at the end of the day, it all depends on our athletic director, who has no intention of giving me my release."
Even if FIU were to release Ferguson before the April 29 deadline for him to submit his name to enter the draft, the sophomore says his mind is made up. He intends to some day complete his degree at another university, but this experience has soured him on playing college basketball again.
"I have my mind made up," Ferguson said. "There's just too many rules with the NCAA. I don't want to go through this ever again."
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