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Pitt releases Cameron Johnson to play at UNC as graduate transfer

UPDATED: Thu., June 8, 2017

In this Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, file photo, Pittsburgh's Cameron Johnson (23) shoots after getting by Syracuse's Frank Howard during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic / Associated Press)
In this Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, file photo, Pittsburgh's Cameron Johnson (23) shoots after getting by Syracuse's Frank Howard during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic / Associated Press)
By Aaron Beard Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. – Pittsburgh has released guard Cameron Johnson to play immediately at North Carolina as a graduate transfer.

Johnson’s father, former Pitt player Gil Johnson, said the school notified the family Thursday that it has removed any restrictions for his son to play next year for the reigning national Tar Heels. Pittsburgh had cited an internal policy in trying to require the 6-foot-8 Johnson to sit out a year if he went to another Atlantic Coast Conference school instead of playing right away with two seasons of eligibility.

“It’s been a frustrating couple of months,” Gil Johnson told The Associated Press on Thursday afternoon. “But I’m a true believer in generally people end up doing the right things more times than not, especially by a young man who has given the university everything he could over the past three years. So I was prayerful that Pitt would do the right thing and allow him to pursue his dreams.”

Pitt issued a statement confirming Johnson’s release and wishing him “the very best as he pursues his graduate degree.”

“We’re Pitt Panthers, no hard feelings at all,” said Gil Johnson, who played for Pitt from 1988-90. “We understand that they had an obligation and a duty to the university. And we have an obligation and a duty to the university – but to our son as well.”

Cameron Johnson graduated in three years, including a medical redshirt season in 2014-15, and will provide the Tar Heels with perimeter scoring to help replace departed AP All-American Justin Jackson. Johnson – whose hometown is Moon Township, Pennsylvania – averaged 11.9 points and 4.5 rebounds while shooting nearly 42 percent on 3-pointers last season.

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 had cited its own policy regarding immediate eligibility for transfers within the conference or to a team on the next year’s schedule.

Johnson issued a public statement Tuesday saying he should be immediately eligible to play in Chapel Hill and that Pitt was wrong to block him.

He said 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 had determined that the residence requirement doesn’t apply to graduate transfers. Rather, the NCAA said the bylaw requires athletes to be either immediately eligible or “totally denied” from attending a school.

In its statement, the school cited that rule interpretation as a reason to “take a less restrictive approach” and grant Johnson’s release.

“We were proud to have Cameron as a student-athlete and are now proud to have him as a graduate of our institution,” the statement reads. “We wish him the very best as he pursues his graduate degree.”

AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

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