ATHENS - Five years ago Marcus Thornton signed to play basketball at Clemson, but a few months later the head coach left. Luckily for Thornton, that school let him out of his letter-of-intent, and he was able to sign with Georgia.
But if Clemson had not let him out, Thornton would have forfeited a year of college eligibility at Georgia, or would have had to stick with Clemson. Such is the power of the NCAA's letter-of-intent.
So when Thornton heard about football recruit Roquan Smith not signing a LOI with Georgia, opting instead only to sign a financial aid agreement, Thornton called it "the smart thing to do."
"It is good for the kids to have flexibility, just like a coach has flexibility to pursue different job opportunities that are better for their family," said Thornton, a fifth-year senior who leads Georgia in scoring and rebounding. "Whatever the case may be I think the kids should have that same type of flexibility."
A lot of athletes don't know they have the option of not signing the letter-of-intent, Thornton said. Smith's situation may help change that, and lead to more top-level players not signing the LOI.
Football and basketball are different, as Thornton and Georgia head coach Mark Fox pointed out. There's an early signing period in basketball - November, with the late signing period being in April - and Thornton's case is not that unusual. When a team changes coaches in March and an early signee wants a release, public pressure usually leads to it happening.
"I know basketball is a lot more flexible than football," Thornton said. "It's a lot different, you've got position coaches and stuff like that. In basketball what really hurts you is the head coach leaving, because there's not as many coaches. But yeah, (not signing the LOI) is a smart thing for kids to do, and probably an option that will be visited a lot more in the years coming."
Possibly, though maybe not necessarily in basketball, according to Fox.
"I don't think that'll be a huge issue in our sport. I really don't," Fox said. "You know, football recruiting is somewhat chaotic. We (in basketball) have early signing, which eliminates some of that. And so many kids get releases from their LOIs anyway in our sport. Maybe football will get to that point."
Back in 2010, Fox also let signee Daniel Miller out of his letter-of-intent, and Miller signed with Georgia Tech. When asked if Fox let Miller out regretfully, Fox quickly responded: "Did he play in the NCAA tournament?"
Miller did not, while Georgia went to the NCAA tournament in what would have been his freshman year in Athens.
"OK, thanks," Fox said. "I'm not trying to be negative on the kid. But I took the high road there."