LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - Joe Crawford, a jewel of Kentucky's most recent recruiting class, has left the basketball team and will transfer, coach Tubby Smith said Tuesday.
Smith did not say where Crawford might go. Before Crawford signed with Kentucky, he had orally committed to Michigan.
``We're certainly disappointed that Joe chose to transfer,'' Smith said. ``He has been given his release. We all wish him the best wherever he decides to continue his collegiate career and his college studies. We certainly enjoyed him.
``He's a kid that will do well wherever he goes. But whenever someone leaves in those situations, it's an opportunity for someone else to step up and contribute.''
During a news conference Tuesday, a day before the ninth-ranked Wildcats (10-2, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) host league rival Vanderbilt (11-4, 2-0), Smith declined to take questions about Crawford's situation.
Crawford was unavailable for comment. A phone message left for Crawford on Tuesday afternoon at his parents' home in Detroit wasn't immediately returned.
Crawford, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound guard, was one of three McDonald's All-America selections in the Wildcats' freshman class, joining Randolph Morris and Rajon Rondo, both of whom have started all season.
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 Wildcats' two most recent games. He played four minutes in a win over South Carolina and a season-low three minutes in a loss to No. 2 Kansas on Sunday.
He was averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.
Athletics Department spokesman Scott Stricklin said Crawford's parents, Sylvia and Joseph Crawford, attended the Wildcats' game against Kansas and met with Smith and their son Monday. Later, Crawford's parents met with Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, Stricklin said.
Crawford's decision surprised his teammates, who said Crawford hadn't spoken with them about it.
``He wasn't playing as well as he would have liked to,'' senior forward Chuck Hayes said. ``There are times that you feel that you should have done more things and you wish you had more opportunities to do stuff. But that's what happens when you come in as a freshman. You've got to work your way through the system.''
Sophomore forward Bobby Perry, who also was highly recruited out of high school but has yet to break into Kentucky's starting lineup, said the transition from high school star to college role player hasn't been easy.
``Sometimes it's not all about basketball. It's about life,'' Perry said. ``That's what I like about coach Smith. I realize that. Coming in, I was just willing to learn and wait my turn. I realized that I didn't know everything right away and I had a lot to learn.''
It appeared Tuesday that Crawford likely will forfeit two years of eligibility, starting with the second half of this season. Smith has allowed Crawford to talk to other schools and explore transfer possibilities, but the university has not released Crawford from his letter of intent, which amounts to a one-year contract between the player and school.
Stricklin said that before Crawford enrolls at another NCAA Division I school, Kentucky would have to let Crawford know if such a release would be granted. If the release is not granted, a player loses a year of eligibility.
Until this season, a school didn't have the option to grant a release, Stricklin said. If Kentucky were to do so, it would set a precedent and would be equivalent to giving future players a one-semester tryout option with the Wildcats, he said.
``We would be inclined to expect that the student-athlete hold up his end of the letter of intent,'' Stricklin said.
Also, under NCAA rules, Crawford must sit out a year after transferring before becoming eligible, even if Kentucky does release him. Thus, he could not play for another Division I team until next January, which means he'd lose the first half of what would be, in eligibility terms, his junior season.