RALEIGH, N.C. – Former Pittsburgh guard Cameron Johnson wants to play immediately at North Carolina as a graduate transfer. The Panthers aren’t going along with that plan.
Pitt believes the 6-foot-8 Johnson should sit out a year if he goes to another Atlantic Coast Conference school instead of playing immediately as a graduate transfer with two seasons of eligibility. Johnson said Tuesday he has committed to play for the reigning national champion Tar Heels in Chapel Hill and issued an open letter saying Pitt is wrong to stand in his way.
In an interview with The Associated Press, his father said Tuesday night he doesn’t know how the situation will turn out.
“I am optimistic, but I don’t know what to expect,” said Gil Johnson, himself a former Pitt basketball player from 1988-90. UNC coach Roy Williams “and his staff seem very confident and comfortable with the procedures, so I am optimistic. And hopefully these adults will do the right thing by Cam.”
NCAA rules allow transfers who have earned their degrees to play immediately. However, schools and conferences can have their own policies for granting a release from a year-to-year scholarship agreement. In this case, Pitt has cited an internal policy regarding immediate eligibility for transfers within the conference or to a team on the next year’s schedule.
“The University of Pittsburgh followed the NCAA processes and our institutional policies as they are written,” the school’s athletics department said in a statement Tuesday night. “The NCAA is currently evaluating the graduate transfer rule and its application to this situation. We are awaiting their response.”
UNC cannot comment on players yet to formally sign with the school.
If Johnson doesn’t gain his release and remains committed to play at UNC, he would lose one of his remaining seasons of eligibility. Gil Johnson said his son picked UNC over programs such as Kentucky, Arizona, UCLA and Oregon.
“I started this process believing that having graduated from Pitt, I should have instantly been granted an unconditional release,” Cameron Johnson writes in his open letter. “I feel that should be available to any student-athlete who earns their degree. Unfortunately, Pitt has continued to try and block my wish to attend North Carolina.”
There is no ACC rule barring a graduate transfer from being immediately eligible after moving within the league. In fact, there are recent examples, such as UNC receiver T.J. Thorpe playing football for Virginia in 2015 and former Virginia Tech guard Adam Smith playing his final basketball season at Georgia Tech in 2015-16 – though both were one-year cases.
Johnson graduated in three years, including a medical redshirt season in 2014-15, and would provide the Tar Heels with perimeter scoring to help replace departed AP All-American Justin Jackson. Johnson averaged 11.9 points and 4.5 rebounds while shooting nearly 42 percent on 3-pointers last season.
It’s unclear if the disagreement could lead to legal action, though Johnson references “my family’s legal counsel” at one point in his letter.
Pitt’s policy isn’t the only confusion in the case.
Johnson writes that he appealed the school’s position during a May 2 hearing and was soon granted permission to “immediately receive” a scholarship at another ACC school, though he was also told he must sit out and “serve a year of residence” due to NCAA rules.
But Johnson said the NCAA notified him last week that the residence requirement doesn’t apply to graduate transfers. Rather, he writes, the NCAA said the bylaw requires athletes to be either immediately eligible or “totally denied” from attending a school.
Johnson said Pitt “did not interpret the NCAA rule correctly.”
“Now that I have learned that their attempt to make me sit a year before competing at an ACC school is against NCAA rules, I see no reason why the faculty committee, or anybody associated with Pitt, should be able to reverse a ruling they already made,” Johnson writes. “Quite simply, I should be immediately eligible at North Carolina.”
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
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