Louisville, Florida State, Syracuse, UGA and Georgia Tech are among the top choices for Rockdale County point guard Kevin Ware, who has requested a release from his Tennessee basketball scholarship with Monday’s firing of Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl.
“I haven’t talked to any of those schools but those would be the ones I would be most interested in,” Ware told the AJC on Monday night. “I have no idea if any of them have scholarships available or would be interested in me, too. Right now, I can’t talk to anybody because I’m still signed with Tennessee, so I don’t know. I basically would be interested in whomever is interested in me.”
The 6-foot-4 senior has been committed to Tennessee since his sophomore year. Ware said he picked the Volunteers over offers from Georgetown, UGA, Florida State, Cincinnati, Xavier, and Georgia Tech, among others. He averaged 19 points and 9 assists while leading Rockdale County to its first appearance in the state championship game since 1987.
“It was real shocking to hear that Coach Pearl got fired; it was a sad day,” Ware said. “People were telling me about it all afternoon at school — and even then I still didn’t believe it. I never thought he was going to get fired.”
What’s really interesting is that Ware decided to request his release last week — long before Monday’s developments. Ware told the AJC did he “didn’t have a good feeling about the situation” after talking over the phone with Pearl last Thursday. His father filled out paperwork the next day and mailed it in to both the NCAA and Tennessee’s athletics department. It had not been approved by Monday.
“I asked Coach Pearl ‘What was the situation for you next year? Would it be smart for me to back out?’” Ware recalled. “He told me ‘Do whatever you think is best for you.’ At the same time, he understood the biggest reason I was going to Tennessee was to play for him.”
What made Ware go ahead and request the release with Pearl’s future unknown at the time? “Because it was a lot of stress on me,” Ware said. “I already had wanted to see how things were going to play out at Tennessee and get my release, so if Pearl wasn’t going to be there I could start the recruiting process back up quickly. I didn’t know if he was really going to get fired. But it was a lot of stress trying to deal with the situation hearing stuff from different people every other day, and having to go to school and try to focus on academics.”
Ware said he did not talk with Pearl or any of Tennessee’s coaches on Monday. He expects to hear from Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton within the next couple of days and said he will proceed with his request for a release. Said Ware, “Hopefully Mike Hamilton will grant it. I haven’t ever given Tennessee any problems. I’ve never thought about de-committing to Tennessee since I committed to them in the 10th grade. I honestly don’t see why it would be a problem for them releasing me.”
If released as expected, Ware said he would try to contact Georgia Tech and UGA, among other schools, to see if there was reciprocal interest. “I wouldn’t lean to Georgia Tech as much because Coach [Paul] Hewitt just got fired and I don’t know the situation there without a new coach. I would take a good look at Georgia because of some of the guys coming in, especially Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (the 5-star recruit from Greenville High). We played against each other twice when I was in high school, and I think we would play well together in the same backcourt in college. However, I don’t know the scholarship situation at each school or what they’re looking for.”
Ware didn’t even rule out playing for Tennessee under a different coach. “It’s a great atmosphere at Tennessee for college basketball,” he said. “I’d want to meet with the new coach and make sure I would be a good fit for his system, and he would be good fit for me and my family. I hate it that Coach Pearl won’t be there, but I guess that’s the way it goes.”
My two cents: Like most high school basketball players, Ware still needs to develop his overall basketball game. The biggest thing that stands out to me about Ware is his superior athleticism. He is one of the state’s top 5-10 high school athletes, regardless of sport. And that is saying a lot in talent-loaded Georgia.