I’ve got Angel Garcia on my mind. After a few days of pondering his hasty departure from the U of M program (to play professionally in Spain), I find Garcia’s tale more and more unsavory, if not atypical in the modern world of college basketball.
The word commitment has grown quaint when it comes to sports of any kind, but it seems especially so — like a set-shot from the corner — in college hoops. In the age of “one-and-done” wonders (the Tigers have suited up Dajuan Wagner, Shawne Williams, Derrick Rose, and Tyreke Evans), the notion of a college basketball star staying in school even two seasons is a blurred dream of yesteryear. If Will Barton plays for Memphis as a sophomore, it will be the result of (A) his performance being so disappointing that his NBA draft stock plummets or (B) an NBA lockout forces “one-and-doners” like Barton to consider Plan B on their way to a first pro contract.
But this is where Garcia’s story diverges from some of his predecessors in the U of M program. Garcia was not a star. At best, he would become a complementary player. But this looked like the winter when Garcia might indeed maximize his size and long-range shooting to complement Wesley Witherspoon and the freshman stars surrounding him. Role players help win basketball games. Garcia had his chance, finally as a junior, to fill a role for coach Josh Pastner.
And consider the role the University of Memphis filled for Garcia before the 2010-11 campaign tipped off. Recruited by John Calipari, Garcia was academically ineligible as a freshman, but remained with the program — and, not incidentally, enrolled in school, on scholarship. A knee injury cost him all but the last few games of his sophomore season, but Garcia showed glimpses of what he could bring Pastner this season, particularly the unusual combination of height and long-range shooting touch. A poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki, we might have considered Garcia.
But then eight games into his junior season, Garcia decided to hop the Atlantic and play professionally. Combined with injuries to Witherspoon and D.J. Stephens, Garcia’s absence left Pastner with what amounted to a seven-man rotation last Thursday night against Austin Peay. Freshman forward Hippolyte Tsafack had his redshirt status removed, an effort to build on what was suddenly a small team. (The Tigers gave up 51 rebounds to the Governors.)
I don’t have a problem so much with a young man going where he might earn a living and provide for his family. Money screams, particularly to those who haven’t had a lot to manage in their bank account. But I find the timing and haste of Garcia’s departure unseemly. After two years of the University of Memphis serving as a free training ground for a young man unable — on two counts — to perform the duties for which he was awarded a scholarship worth thousands of dollars, he departs a program that could finally rely on the strengths for which he was recruited in the first place. The public gratitude Garcia expressed upon announcing his decision is worth a Derrick Rose SAT score. No more.
College basketball coaches recruit based on need. Pastner factored in a healthy Angel Garcia as he built his 2010-11 team. The coach would be myopic to consider this year’s roster a forecast for the 2011-12 season, but he should at least be able to count on his full allotment of scholarship players for one season. Garcia blew that notion to bits.
Angel Garcia’s legacy as a Tiger? Unlike some of the one-and-done stars that sold tickets by themselves, Garcia took much more from the U of M program than he gave. I honestly wish him well and hope his pro career blossoms, whatever paths he follows. But as for his time here in Memphis, one word sticks in my head: waste.