When promising freshman Jarrod Uthoff informed Wisconsin's coaching staff of his intent to transfer last week, the 6-foot-8 Iowa native's plan was to go to another strong program close to home.
The trouble is Wisconsin has severely limited his options by not allowing many schools Uthoff is interested in to contact him.
Jamie Johnson, Uthoff's former AAU coach with the Iowa Barnstormers, said Tuesday that less than half the 25 to 30 schools the forward asked for permission to speak with received a release from Wisconsin allowing them to do so. Uthoff told the Metro Sports Report on Monday evening that Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has put the entire Big Ten, the entire ACC, Iowa State and Marquette on the list of schools forbidden from contacting him.
As a result of the restrictions, the only school Uthoff is interested in that has a scholarship available and permission to speak with him is Creighton, a perennial contender in the Missouri Valley Conference. Johnson said Uthoff intends to visit Creighton sometime in the next week, but he is also appealing Wisconsin's restrictions in hopes of opening other options for himself.
"He's a little surprised and disappointed," Johnson said. "I don't think he thought what is happening would happen. I think he thought they'd be a little upset by it or disappointed he was leaving, but they'd wish him well and turn their attention to their team. I think he was caught off guard, knowing them the way he knows them, that they'd be vindictive."
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A Wisconsin spokesman cited student privacy laws in declining to explain the rationale for denying Uthoff's transfer and indicated Ryan was unavailable for comment Tuesday. The spokesman did cite a section of the Wisconsin student-athlete handbook granting coaches the right to deny a transfer's request to contact another institution and giving the student-athlete just two days to submit a written request to appeal.
Even though Ryan has yet to comment publicly, the obvious assumption is the Badgers were surprised and upset by Uthoff's decision to transfer. They clearly don't want to face him in the future, whether it's at rival Marquette, in a conference game or in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
Uthoff, a former Rivals Top 150 recruit with a versatile inside-outside game, redshirted as a freshman but was expected to play off the bench next season and compete for a starting role in two years once Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz graduate. Instead Uthoff decided during his year on the bench that he wasn't 100 percent comfortable at Wisconsin and he didn't fit as well in Ryan's swing offense as he thought he would.
"I've talked to one of the staff members there and to Jarrod and I know the staff was surprised by it because they had plans for him," Johnson said. "They were disappointed he's leaving, they didn't see it coming and they don't understand.
"From Jarrod's perspective, he liked it there. He thinks it's a great campus, a great school and a great program. He just didn't feel he fit in the way he wanted to fit in, the way he wanted to be used, after being there a year in practice. He thought there might be a better situation elsewhere. He's still a teenager and teenagers are a little bit unpredictable. He had something in mind, and it wasn't quite what he was hoping for."
Coaches are typically reticent to block players from transferring to certain other schools as a result of the public backlash that can ensue.
Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli endured weeks of criticism from local and national media this winter when he refused to sign the paperwork allowing former reserve Todd O'Brien to play at Alabama-Birmingham this past season. Providence also made headlines in 2010 for denying top recruit Joseph Young his release so he could enroll at Houston, which had just hired his father on its staff.
What aggravates Johnson most about Wisconsin's restrictions on Uthoff is he feels it's somewhat of a double standard. Ryan was only able to land guard Ben Brust because Iowa was willing to release the incoming freshman to Wisconsin last spring after Brust decided he did not want to play for new Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery.
"For that to happen and this to occur, it just seems a little unfair," Johnson said. "At the same time, I understand it. They had a kid they recruited, spent time on, redshirted and had plans for, so I also see the other side. I know they're hurt and disappointed, but I guess I'd look at it like if the kid doesn't want to be here, let him go and go recruit someone else."
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