Smith: Meeting with departed player scheduled

Friday, January 14th 2005, 6:37 pm
By: News On 6

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ Joe Crawford, who suddenly quit Kentucky's basketball team earlier this week, soon will visit with Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, a move that could pave the way for Crawford to return to the Wildcats.

Smith said Friday that he and Crawford would visit ``at some point in time'' but declined to offer specifics about when or where.

``We'll talk, but I'm not going to give you all an agenda or itinerary of what I'm going to be doing in the future,'' Smith told reporters a few hours before the ninth-ranked Wildcats (11-2) departed for their game Saturday at Georgia.

Athletics Department spokesman Scott Stricklin said 14 players _ the number left on the team after Crawford's departure _ would make the trip to Georgia.

A phone message left at Crawford's home in Detroit on Friday night wasn't immediately returned.

Crawford, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound freshman guard and a jewel of Kentucky's most recent recruiting class, left the Wildcats on Monday in a dispute over playing time.

Crawford averaged 13.3 minutes a game for Kentucky, the sixth-highest total on the team. But Crawford's playing time had diminished in the two games immediately before his departure. He played four minutes in a win over South Carolina on Jan. 5 and a season-low three minutes in a loss to No. 2 Kansas on Sunday.

Through 12 games, the former high school McDonald's All-American was averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. Kentucky beat Vanderbilt 69-54 on Wednesday in the Wildcats' first game without Crawford.

If Crawford doesn't return to Kentucky, he'd likely forfeit two seasons of eligibility, starting with the second half of this season. His violation of the letter of intent he signed with Kentucky would result in an automatic forfeiture of one season unless Kentucky gave him a release, something school officials said they probably wouldn't do.

Under NCAA rules, he must sit out a year after transferring before becoming eligible, even if Kentucky did release him. Thus, he could not play for another NCAA Division I team until next January, which means he'd lose the first half of what would be, in eligibility terms, his junior season.

Still, after Crawford's decision to leave Kentucky became known, seven schools requested a copy of Crawford's transcript from Kentucky: Michigan State, Clemson, Arizona, Kansas State, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma and Illinois.

Kentucky players said they'd welcome Crawford's return, although most were careful with their words when asked about the situation Friday.

``If he comes back, he's got a place,'' said senior co-captain Chuck Hayes. ``He's still got a locker with a jersey in it.''