by Kent Sterling
Players leave programs all the time. It happens almost everywhere, and for the most part, it’s a win/win/win as the kid wins, the program he goes to wins, and the program he leaves wins.
That will likely be the case for Austin Etherington, a redshirt sophomore who has asked for and has been granted his release. Etherington will leave Indiana with his degree in management from SPEA, and have two years of eligibility left, Indiana will have room to add a late signee from the class of 2014 or a transfer, and a school (likely Indiana State, where Austin’s brother Alex plays) will get a smart, tough-minded player with great leadership qualities.
News of Etherington’s transfer comes hours after Noah Vonleh told CBS that he will enter the NBA Draft. If Etherington’s transfer was less than a shock, Vonleh’s announcement confirmed what was suspected before he ever arrived in Bloomington. He didn’t re-class a year ahead because he wanted to get his degree before turning 21. The plan was one-and-done from the beginning.
Whether a successful program can be sustained with uber-talented kids whose interest in college is not likely to extend beyond eight months is debatable. If Wichita State hits a last second three-pointer yesterday, Kentucky fans would have started to murmur about John Calipari’s predilection toward single-year players.
For Indiana, the blood letting is likely not over. There is going to be at least one more player who will decide to leave Bloomington for what he believes will be greener pastures.
That’s not necessarily an indictment on the leadership of Tom Crean. There are very few players who don’t give at least passing thought to transferring after their sophomore year. That’s the year when the player has his greatest value to another school, and many realize that whatever their dreams were as freshmen are not likely to be fulfilled at their current address.
There is a current player on Indiana’s roster that was destined for the NBA, a prominent and well-informed booster told me before the player’s freshman year. I had seen him play several times, and thought he would find it difficult to enjoy a prominent role during Big Ten play, much less ever play a minute in the NBA. That is the wide swath of opinions surrounding these young players. I’m sure that kid thought he would head to Bloomington, dominate, and bounce the millions awaiting NBA stars. That did not happen. In fact, his minutes diminished throughout the season, and whether his playing next year would be a net gain for Indiana is in grave doubt.
His optimistic assessment and subsequent disappointment certainly can’t be his fault. It’s the coach, circumstances, teammates reluctance to pass him the ball, bad luck, quality of water, inability to find a steady girl, lack of support from teammates, distance to family, etc… Well, over at the school he spurned to accept at IU, people are doing well, and if he could turn back time, he would have committed elsewhere. He can’t turn back time, so he bolts rather than invite more regret.
The coach tries to help with an accurate appraisal, but it only confirms in the player’s mind that the coach has it out for him.
Fans like to blame the coach, which is ludicrous most of the time. The kids are self-immersed, and eager to chase an unattainable vision buffeted by friends and family who can’t see the forest for the trees.
Long story short is that the churn that may continue throughout the spring in Bloomington has a lot more to do with the flakiness of youth than a void in the leadership department. To this point, it looks like Etherington wants to play with his brother, and Vonleh wants to get paid. Neither has anything to do with Crean.
Now if Yogi Ferrell, Stanford Robinson, and Troy Williams all announce their intent to vamoose, the narrative changes.