It's apparently easier to break out of a maximum security prison these days than it is to escape the DePaul basketball program.
DePaul announced on Wednesday that it will not release incoming freshman Walter Pitchford from his letter of intent as the 6-foot-10 forward requested last week. Pitchford cited Chicago's high crime rate and DePaul's recent coaching change as reasons he wanted out, a request his father said athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto initially indicated that she and school president Dennis Holtschneider would grant.
"When the president of the school and athletic director say he should get his release and something else happens, that concerns me a great deal," Walter Pitchford Sr. told ESPN Chicago on Wednesday. "That's where I want to start -- right there with Father Dennis. Because she clearly relayed to me that she had talked to Father Dennis about Walter's situation, and that both of them agreed he should get his release. Now, we're looking at something different."
DePaul's unwillingness to let the younger Pitchford out of his letter of intent is even more egregious than similar situations that have popped up with transfers earlier this spring. It was bad enough that Alabama wouldn't let Justin Knox go to in-state rival Alabama-Birmingham and Mississippi tried to prevent Murphy Holloway from going to South Carolina or Clemson, but in this case DePaul wants to keep Pitchford from playing anywhere else.
"DePaul University is committed to Walter and is looking forward to him joining the program for the 2010-11 season," the school's statement said. "Walter showed nothing but enthusiasm to attend DePaul University throughout the recruiting process and since he signed the NLI to join the men's basketball program. At this time, the athletics department does not intend to grant the release."
That DePaul expects people to believe it's keeping Pitchford because of the enthusiasm he showed prior to signing is probably the most insulting part of this process. What that release should say is that the Blue Demons feel Pitchford is putting them in a bad spot by asking for his release when no other recruits are available to replace him, so they're exercising their right not to grant it.
In fairness to DePaul, Pitchford's excuses for asking out now are pretty flimsy since the crime rate was bad in Chicago when he signed in Nov. 2009 and new coach Oliver Purnell was hired almost two months ago.
Still, bad timing or not, the Blue Demons aren't seeing the big picture here.
Pitchford is a two-star big man who initially turned down offers from Michigan, Minnesota and George Washington to come to DePaul -- a good player no doubt but probably not a program-changing recruit.
It's the right thing to do to let Pitchford go. Equally importantly, it's not worth the public relations hit to hold him there against his will.