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Jason Conley on the Move?

January 9, 2003 Columns No Comments

Conley on the Go?

by Jed Tai

News reports and rumors are circulating all around that sophomore scoring sensation Jason Conley of VMI is looking to transfer. Apparently he has been granted a release from the school and is shopping for a new school to attend.

Why is this a big deal you might ask?

Simply put, the 6-5 Conley is a big-time talent. Forget the fact that he has spent the past season and a half in relative obscurity in the Southern Conference at VMI, Conley is a natural scorer who, last season, became the first freshman in NCAA history to lead the country in scoring at 29.3 ppg. He became the first player in SoCon history to be named freshman and conference player of the year. While his numbers had been relatively down this season by the own lofty standards that he had set – mainly due to a strained tendon injury in his foot – he was still scoring at a 22.2 ppg clip.

But despite the big numbers, word on the street is that Conley would like to prove himself against greater competition. At VMI, not only does he not play against top-level opponents, there’s also zero television exposure. By moving on to a bigger program, he could play against more of the top players on a consistent basis, and on the bright lights of the big stage. As a result, he conceivably would have a greater chance at attracting the attention of NBA scouts. There’s also talk that he would like to go someplace where he wouldn’t have to shoulder such a heavy offensive load, and that he’s been a little frustrated with having to do that at VMI.

When you put it all together, makes complete sense, does it not?

Not quite.

Sure, the talk about him wanting to go onto a bigger program has merit – it’s talk that has surrounded Conley ever since his breakout freshman season. But there are several factors why this talk of Conley transferring doesn’t quite add up.

First, transferring in mid-year isn’t the best move one could make. What ends up happening is that because of the NCAA’s rule of transfers sitting out a calendar year, the player ends up using two seasons to play one. If Conley were to leave now, he wouldn’t be eligible until spring of 2004. Granted, mid-year transfers aren’t uncommon – guys like Lawrence Funderburke, Jason Collier, and recently Will Bynum have done this. But what would it hurt to play out the year, and then transfer? He’s going to have to sit out a year anyways, so why not get as many games in as you can? Or is moving on so urgent that it has to be done right now?

Second, and most importantly, a fact that’s lost in this story is that Conley isn’t just a sophomore – he’s a redshirt sophomore. He sat out his true freshman year at VMI in 2000-01 as a partial qualifier (a dyslexic, Conley couldn’t get a qualifying standardized test score). So, if he were to transfer, not only would he have to sit out a year, but because of the NCAA’s five-year rule (a player has five years to complete four years of eligibility, starting from enrollment), he wouldn’t have as much eligibility left at his next destination as a normal transfer – at least one semester less.

There’s another catch too. Because he was a partial qualifier academically as a true freshman – unless he’s been making sufficient progress towards completing a degree in four years, he would only have three total years of eligibility. Because he would be transferring in mid-year, that would mean he would have only one semester – one half of a season – at his new school. Most, if not all, top programs hardly feel it’s worth it to bring in a transfer even if he’ll have a full season. How many would really consider someone for only half a season? Sure, maybe Conley’s academics are in order to get that fifth year of eligibility. But maybe it’s not – and who knows how credits might transfer from one school to another. And at most the next school he would be at would barely have him for more than one year.

Thirdly, let’s not forget all the stories about how Conley enjoyed life at VMI. According to an interview he had with Neil Schmidt of the Cincinnati Enquirer, he enjoyed the challenges of being at a military institution and that being at a small school didn’t bother him; he hoped to help VMI attain big reputation. He had just reached the rank of corporal. His life was not just about basketball – why would he just pack up and suddenly leave that all behind – especially to a school who gave him a shot when others wouldn’t?

Just read what Conley told the Associated Press last season prior to the Southern Conference Tournament:

“I don’t think any school can give me what they have,” said Conley. “They’ve been with me through some tough times, some bad times. That’s a real trust level there.”

Perhaps Conley got some “advice” over Christmas break that he should perhaps move on. Hopefully he will come to his senses and at least finish out the season – and hopefully his college career – at VMI. There really aren’t as many options available to him that he might think, and would it really be worth the cost? If Conley is really a real pro prospect, the scouts will find him no matter where he is. Forget television – did anyone ever see Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, or John Stockton play college basketball on TV? Conley’s already been on the tube ten times more than those guys, yet they still got their chance – Pippen in the lottery – and this was back in the day before scouting was extensive as it is now. No reason why it couldn’t be the same for Conley.

Besides, it’s been a great tale – the big fish in a small pond, how someone went from nowhere to somewhere. And if Conley were to lead VMI to their first NCAA appearance since 1977, how much more special would it be? You can’t make up stories as good as this.

Don’t leave, Jason. You’re better off as a Keydet.

Addendum: It’s official – Conley has decided to leave VMI for “personal reasons” and will transfer to another Division I institution. VMI Officials have indicated that Conley had been making satisfactory progress academically, and because of an NCAA waiver, would only need to show 75% completion of degree requirements to obtain a fifth year of eligibility. He was meeting those marks while at VMI. There were no hard feelings on the part of VMI, and the school wished him well in his future endeavors.


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