I’ve got a treat today: a rare story in which a college program isn’t trying to totally dick over a player who wants to transfer.
Alex Lomax is a point guard currently wrapping up his senior year at Memphis East High School, where he’s won three consecutive state titles and will graduate this spring. Lomax is rated as a four-star guard; as such, he committed to the Wichita State last November, rounding out a class of six recruits known locally as the “Sensational Six.” Then, last week, Penny Hardaway was announced as the head coach of Memphis, complicating matters quite a bit for Lomax.
Before he was a star alongside Shaq for the Orlando Magic, Hardaway, born and raised in Memphis, played for Memphis during the 1992 and 1993 seasons, back when it was Memphis State University. Since his retirement from the NBA in 2008, Hardaway’s spent a good chunk of the past 10 years working in his hometown coaching youth basketball teams. This began with his old middle school, Lester Middle School, as he had a buddy who needed to step away from the team—a simple favor.
Then, according to the Commercial Appeal, Hardaway took in and helped raise Lomax starting in the sixth grade; this led Hardaway to pursue coaching, as he coached Lomax as both his AAU coach and then as the head coach at East High. Turns out, Hardaway’s pretty good at this coaching game—unlike Sidney Lowe at N.C. State or Clyde Drexler at Houston, he’s not jumping straight into Division I coaching with no experience at the lower levels. At East High, he can claim three state titles. As coach of Team Penny, he can claim a slew of 2019 college commits, including Lomax, the MVP of the latest championship game and two-time Mr. Basketball in Tennessee. That’s to say, the man’s got the X’s and O’s down, and more importantly, he’s got a life’s worth of connections in the Volunteer State that should at least get some butts in seats and, if he’s got some luck, lead to a healthy revitalization of a once-mighty program.
It’s no surprise then that Lomax would be eager to play for his childhood mentor. Lomax initially committed to Wichita State over Memphis because, well, the young man’s not a fool. He told the Wichita Eagle shortly after his commitment the reason was simple: “I love to win and they have a winning program.” Memphis was a damn wreck in Tubby Smith’s final years—the Tigers missed the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season this year because, in 2017, they hemorrhaged nearly every speck of remaining talent they had. This led Smith to say some extremely dumb shit about players that choose transfer; whatever, he’s gone now.
For Gregg Marshall, the head coach of the Shockers, merely landing Lomax this offseason was a win, given that during the same time, he lost a pair of assistant coaches—the staff members that typically handle the bulk of recruiting for major programs. But once Hardaway entered the picture at Memphis, Marshall knew his days with Lomax were limited. On Tuesday, Marshall and the Shockers sent out a press release containing the following statement, confirming the Wichita State athletic department would not fight his intended transfer:
“I have a lot of respect for Alex Lomax and his family. When they chose Wichita State in the fall, over several other very nice offers, my staff and I were honored. Obviously, we take commitments to the Shocker program very seriously, but this is a very unique situation where a young man’s mentor and coach since the fifth grade has become a Division I head coach. Allowing him out of his NLOI without any kind of penalty is the right thing to do at this time.”
Marshall isn’t exactly the calmest head in the game, but in a moment that required only common sense and a couple signatures, he did what coach upon coach upon coach has failed to do—“the right thing.” (It helps that he might get NBA prospect Landry Shamet back at point guard next year and has senior Samajae Haynes-Jones lined up just in case.)
This shouldn’t be news, let alone an aberration from the norm in college athletics. Stories like this should be a dime-a-dozen in a league that restricts the monetary actions of its athletes with a vengeance but simply shrugs when the latest shitty coach walks away with a multi-million dollar buyout, like Tubby Smith’s $10 million get-lost payment. Of course, they’re not, and athletes trying to transfer have recently turned to social media and local and national news outlets to help them with their appeals. Thank God this transfer didn’t require the revolution of the same cycle that’s becoming accepted—the school denies the transfer, the NCAA points at the school and closes its eyes, and then everyone shouts so goddamn hard at the college and the NCAA-enforced system that they finally cave. And that’s only if you’re a player at a big-name school that would demand media attention.
Alex Lomax did not deserve to go through the same flailing buearacracy that nearly got the best of Braxton Beverly and Cam Johnson. Thanks to Gregg Marshall being the rare coach to rule with common sense, Lomax can play where he wants. It’s a shame that he’s the exception, and it’s an even bigger shame that the system steals that much power from the hands of its workforce, but, for now (and until the NCAA falls to the inevitable player uprising), the small victories like this will have to do.