When he blindsided the Utah State basketball team earlier this month by quitting two days before its season opener, forward David Collette quickly learned a hard lesson.
College coaches seldom accept rejection gracefully.
Utah State officials informed Collette on Monday that they are denying his request for a release granting him and his family permission to speak with other schools. The restriction makes it difficult for Collette to transfer to another Division I program because coaches cannot communicate with him or his family without violating NCAA rules.
Collette can still enroll at another institution and then initiate contact with the basketball program, but he'd have to pay tuition on his own for the first two semesters. Cobbling together that kind of money would be no easy feat for a college sophomore married to another full-time student.
"I don't understand why Utah State would do this," Collette told Yahoo Sports. "If a guy's not comfortable where he is or not happy, why not let him go? The coaches and administrators always talk about how they have their players' backs. Well, obviously not. From what I've experienced, they do not have my best interest at heart whatsoever."
The timing of Collette's decision to transfer is Utah State's primary frustration. It left the Aggies almost no time to find a replacement for a 6-foot-10 forward who earned third-team all-conference honors as a redshirt freshman last season after averaging 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds.
"David Collette chose to leave Utah State two days prior to its season opening contest, which hamstrung the team in terms of recruiting a new player to that position or even practicing with other players for that position," Utah State said Wednesday in a written statement to Yahoo Sports. "The timing of David’s decision to leave the team is the reason Utah State is handling his release this way."
In a Nov. 11 release announcing Collette's sudden departure, Utah State coach Tim Duryea suggested that tampering by other schools may have played a role in the unusual timing.
"I think there were a lot of factors in play that, unfortunately, have become a trend in college basketball of schools poaching other schools' players," Duryea said. "I don't feel good and don't like how things transpired."
Collette vehemently denies that any other program influenced his decision by expressing interest directly to him or through a third party. He instead attributes his abrupt exit to a deteriorating relationship between him and Duryea, a longtime Utah State assistant who ascended to head coach when Stew Morrill retired last spring.
One of Collette's issues with Duryea stems from his alleged use of the phrase "you might as well shoot yourself in the back of the head" when speaking with the team. Though Utah State said Duryea apologized to Collette when told the phrase was insensitive, Collette recalls differently. He said the coach laughed it off and told him it was just a figure of speech.
Another of Collette's issues stemmed from a fight in practice in which one player allegedly sucker punched another in the back of the head. Utah State said in its statement to Yahoo Sports that "punishment for the incident was handed out and seen through," but Collette was uncomfortable with how Duryea downplayed the incident and demanded players stay silent about it.
"He told us not to tell anyone about it — not even family members — because he didn't want the media to find out," Collette said. "Why tell your players to shove it under the rug? If you're a coach telling your players to shove something under the rug, you're obviously not doing something right."
Incidents like those wore on Collette until he could no longer envision playing another year for Duryea. Collette felt guilty about letting down his teammates by quitting so close to the start of the season, but he said they were "understanding and supportive" when he addressed them.
It didn't take long for Collette to realize Utah State coaches and administrators would not be quite so gracious. He received an email the day after he said he was leaving informing him the school was canceling his athletic aid for the remainder of the semester.
Collette also said that his height and weight on his Utah State bio abruptly reverted back to those from the previous year. The difference between 6-10, 235 pounds and 6-8, 220 pounds is significant to a high-major college coach scanning the transfer market in search of a power forward.
"Who does that? It's so childish," Collette said. "I compare Utah State to a bitter ex-girlfriend. I feel like I broke up with Utah State and now she's doing everything she can to get back at me."
Of course the worst part for Collette is he can't truly move on from Utah State just yet. He's in limbo until he finds out the results of his appeal next month.
Collette chose to speak with reporters about his concerns this week in hopes of exerting public pressure on Utah State to grant him his unconditional release. He says he doesn't know where he intends to transfer, but he hopes to find a program with the type of supportive environment he wants.
"If a player is not happy, he should have the freedom to leave," Collette said. "What's so frustrating for me is I'm trying to find another place as soon as I can, and they're holding me back from that."
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