Over the Christmas break Stone, a 6'10" junior reserve center who was averaging 5.3 points, decided to leave Kentucky for another, as-yet-to-be-determined school. When a player transfers, the college he originally attended often won't grant him a release if he intends to go to a school in the same conference. Without mat release, a player must sit out two years instead of one. (An athlete may appeal to the National Letter of Intent office if a release isn't granted.) Ivy, though, has extended that prohibition to include any nonconference teams the Wildcats play—most notably Louisville, which Marvin's mother, Lois, told Wildcats coach Tubby Smith her son might be interested in attending. "I had some hesitancy about releasing him at all after he left in the middle of the season," Ivy said last week. "He put this team in quite a bit of jeopardy."
Ivy says his decision is consistent with a long-standing policy at Kentucky, but CM. Newton, who served as the Wildcats' athletic director from 1989 to 2000, told the Lexington Herald-Leader he'd never heard of such a policy. If the prohibition does exist, it apparently didn't apply to at least three Kentucky football players and one volleyball player who transferred to Louisville in the last 14 years. It's also worth noting that Smith left one SEC school to go to another in 1997, when he bolted from Georgia to replace Rick Pitino in Lexington. Unlike Stone, however, Smith wasn't forced by NCAA rules to sit out at all.
It's odd that Kentucky would be so concerned about competing against a player of Stone's modest credentials. Ivy's initial explanation—that he was protecting Stone from undue pressure—is laughable, and Ivy later admitted the real reason: "We play Louisville in Rupp Arena in two years. Let's say Marvin has a great game, and the Cardinals win. Then we get the question, 'Why would you release him to your rival?' I didn't want to put our program in that situation."
A better question is why Kentucky gets to decide where Stone can play in the first place. The authority Ivy is exercising is granted to him in the "qualified release agreement" provision of the National Letter of Intent, which all Division I recruits who receive athletic scholarships must sign. The letter of intent program isn't run by the NCAA but by the Collegiate Commissioners Association, which administers it through the SEC.
The way college athletes can alter this imbalance is by forming a players' association. That's the objective of the Collegiate Athletes Coalition, which was created in January 2001 by Ramogi Huma, a former linebacker at UCLA. "Players need to start demanding that schools respect their rights," Huma says. "I hope recruits pay attention to which schools treat their players right and which ones don't, because what Kentucky is doing is tyrannical."
New Orleans's Glass Master
From Venezuela To the Big Easy
While growing up in the coastal town of Barcelona in his native Venezuela, Hector Romero dreamed of playing basketball in the bright lights and big cities of the U.S. Imagine his surprise, when in the fall of 1999 he wound up at Independence ( Kans.) Community College. "All I saw were cows and chickens," Romero says. "I couldn't speak any English. I was thinking, Where are the buildings? Where are the people?"
Romero isn't in Kansas anymore. His English has improved dramatically, thanks to his many hours spent watching television, and his basketball skills have similarly flourished. Though he stands only 6'7", Romero, a junior forward at New Orleans, was sixth in the nation in rebounding (11.2 average) through Sunday, and his 20.8 points per game was second in the Sun Belt Conference. The Privateers were a disappointing 5-11, but Romero had proved his mettle against big-time competition by going for 29 points and 19 rebounds in a 76-60 loss at Florida on Dec. 22. "I'm always keeping my eye on the ball so I know where it's going to go," Romero says in explaining his rebounding prowess. Adds first-year Privateers coach Monte Towe, "He's got big hands, and once he gets them on the ball, it's his."
Towe first crossed paths with Romero in 1993—though he didn't know it at the time—when Towe coached Marinos de Oriente to the championship of the Professional Basketball League of Venezuela. After Towe was hired by New Orleans last March, he started researching the top junior college players. He noticed Romero was from Barcelona and invited him to visit the Big Easy. "When I picked him up at the airport, he said he used to come to all our games," says Towe.
Romero, who this season had made 52.2% of his field goals and 70.3% of his free throws, came to the U.S. at the urging of fellow Venezuelan Diego Guevara, who played his college ball at Charlotte. After averaging 21.0 points and 10.5 rebounds for Independence last year, Romero considered attending Charlotte as well as Manhattan and West Virginia. New Orleans appealed to him because it gave him the chance to be the primary scoring option. It also gave him the chance to live in a big city that reminded him of home. "A lot of South Americans are here, and everybody eats seafood," he says. "I'm definitely living out my dream."