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Maurice Creek exemplifies everything that’s right about the grad transfer rule

Oct 22, 2013, 3:26 PM EDT

Coppin State v Indiana Getty Images

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Spurred on by the Summer of Johnny Football and the ongoing lawsuit filed by Ed O’Bannon, the tide is seemingly beginning to turn against the NCAA as they remain a bastion of the fallacy of amateurism. A constant barrage of heavy media criticism will do that, and we’ve reached a point where the idea of student-athlete rights and proper compensation seems like a legitimate possibility.

But one area where many remain torn is on the idea of transfers. Now, I’m firmly against restricting the movements of unpaid amateurs and I believe that the idea of the transfer market becoming “college basketball free agency” is overblown, but I figured that we could all agree that graduate transfer rule is one that is worth keeping around. You know, because it allows a student-athlete to play immediately if he transfers to pursue a graduate degree with eligibility remaining.

Turns out that’s the wrong assumption to make.

“I positively believe a fifth-year guy should not be able to play right away,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said over the summer. “All they’re doing is looking at curriculum, finding a program that a school doesn’t have. Are they really trying to get a master’s degree? … There’s a market out there for this. You take guys through summer school and give them every academic advantage and then they graduate and then they can just go to another school.”

And yes, there are players that take full advantage of this rule, graduating in three or four years and following that up by working towards their graduate degree at a place where they may be able to play a higher level of basketball. The gall of those student-athletes.

But it also works the other way, and eliminating the rule would eliminate opportunities for kids like Maurice Creek.

You should recognize that name. Creek was a star as a freshman at Indiana, averaging almost 17 points, and putting 31 on Kentucky, during the 2009-2010 season. But Creek’s career as a Hoosier was derailed by injury. There was the gruesome broken kneecap he suffered midway through his freshman year. There was the stress fracture he had in his other kneecap as a sophomore. That, too, required surgery. Then there was the Achilles’ tendon that he ruptured as a junior. All told, Creek’s four seasons at Indiana saw him rehab his way through three major surgeries.

“Sitting down’s pretty tough, because you want to be out there every day,” Creek told NBCSports.com after practice at George Washington last week. “Sometimes I think back to all the injuries and I’m like, ‘man, what did I get myself into? Do I want to keep doing this to myself?'”

Creek worked through all of the injuries, motivated by the words of encouragement from guys like Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford. “Just keep working hard,” they would say. “Your time will come.”

But it never did at Indiana. As a fourth-year junior with two surgically-repaired, Creek was no longer needed. Indiana had recruited over him. He had received a scholarship for four years. He had earned his degree. And now it was time for him to move on, and thanks to the graduate transfer rule, Creek would be able to transfer anywhere in the country to use his final season of eligibility.

Creek, who is from just outside D.C. in Oxon Hill, Md., found a landing spot at GW, and the fit couldn’t be more perfect. The Colonials are a young, but promising team. Redshirt senior Isaiah Armwood is back, and he’ll be joined up front by sophomores Kevin Larsen, a physical presence in the paint, and Patricio Garino, a long, athletic wing from Argentina. Toss in a back court that includes Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage, and the only thing GW was missing heading into the season was a veteran back court presence that would be able to knock down threes.

That sums up Creek’s game pretty perfectly.

“I really like how aggressive and athletic we are,” Creek, who wants to be a coach and will be pursuing his graduate degree in Human Leadership and Development, said. “My shooting abilities with that, that’s championship caliber.”

The fit was just that much more snug given the proximity of Creek’s family and friends to GW’s Foggy Bottom locale.

“Going to Indiana, my parents couldn’t catch many of the games,” he said, although their presence will add a different kind of pressure than he was used to back in Bloomington. “Being back home all my friends and family want to go to my games now, and it’s like [now I] have, I don’t want to say more pressure, but you want to be more successful because you’re back at home where really nobody is worrying about [the potential] we have.”

It’s a feel-good story and a great opportunity for Creek, one that was only made possibly by the graduate transfer rule.

But it belies the bigger point here.

“If the rule wasn’t in place, I still probably would have moved on,” Creek said.

That’s because Indiana didn’t have any scholarships left to give. It’s the same thing that happened to fan favorite and sharp-shooter Matt Roth last summer. Creek may have had eligibility left, but since he was leaving after four years with a degree in hand, Tom Crean could say that he fulfilled his commitment to Creek. He could part ways guilt-free, and while I actually don’t think that Crean did anything wrong in doing so, eliminating the graduate transfer rule would eliminate any possibility of Creek being able to finish his career, earn his graduate degree and, if he can stay healthy, have a chance to prove to professional scouts what he’s still capable of doing.

“They’ve given me a great opportunity,” Creek said, “and I can’t thank them enough.”

  1. jytlm - Oct 22, 2013 at 4:59 PM

    The rule shouldn’t even restrict to degree programs their undergrad doesn’t offer. Once a player has graduated, he shouldn’t still owe anything to the school. Going to graduate school at another institution is also generally a better path. It provides exposure to new ideas and places, and can let students go to a better academic program. It’s a joke to restrict where graduates can enroll and still say they care about the athletes’ academics.

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