The Connecticut Post first reported Wednesday that Oriakhi, a key component to UConn’s 2011 national championship team, will “finish his college career somewhere other than Storrs.” The newspaper’s source for the story was Oriakhi’s father, Alex Oriakhi Sr., who said his son “informed the coaching staff and athletic director of his decision Wednesday afternoon.”
“Alex will transfer because of the NCAA tournament next year,” Alex Oriakhi Sr. said.
At this time, UConn has been banned from the 2013 NCAA tournament because of the program’s poor academic performance. There is an outside possibility UConn’s status could change but there isn’t a great deal of optimism that the NCAA will rule in UConn’s favor.
Oriakhi confirmed his decision with CBSSports.com later Wednesday night.
"I loved my time at UConn and have a ton of respect for Coach (Jim) Calhoun and the coaching staff," Oriakhi said. "I had the best year of my life last season when we won the national title, but I'm worried about whether I can finish my career and be able to go to the NCAA tournament my senior season.
"It was tough for me," Oriakhi admitted. "It was a frustrating year for me and for the team, but I would come back if it weren't for the fact that I'm worried about UConn not being able to play in the tourney next year."
Associate head coach George Blaney, reached by telephone Wednesday night, said he had no knowledge of Oriakhi’s decision. Blaney was asked if Oriakhi had informed the coaching staff of his intention to transfer on Wednesday.
“No, I don’t know that,” Blaney said. “I haven’t talked to him. I don’t know that.”
UConn’s athletic communications office did not release any statement regarding Oriakhi’s status. Two school officials said there was nothing to confirm regarding the story. Coach Jim Calhoun did not respond to two phone messages. And assistant coach Kevin Ollie was traveling and could not be reached.
Asked if he knew if Oriakhi informed Calhoun of his decision Wednesday, Blaney said, “Nope, I don’t. . . . I don’t know what the [Connecticut Post] story is. I haven’t seen anything. I don’t know that. I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what the story is. I haven’t heard that.
“I haven’t talked to [Oriakhi] today. I have no comment on it, really, at this stage, because I don’t know.”
Under NCAA rules, Oriakhi could transfer and not be forced to sit out one season since he has only one year of eligibility remaining and it would run concurrent to UConn’s postseason ineligibility. UConn will not receive a final ruling from the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance until late April. The committee is still considering UConn’s appeal of a waiver request that was denied in February. And there is the possibility that there could be a change in the data gathering process for the Academic Progress Rate.
If Oriakhi transfers and UConn’s eligibility is restored, he would have to sit out one season at the school he transfers to.
News that Oriakhi has started the transfer process isn’t surprising but the timing seems a bit strange since UConn’s status hasn’t been clarified completely.
It is possible Oriakhi is just starting the process to gauge interest, which should be high. But he could wait until the NCAA matter is settled and leave the door open to coming back. That would allow him to have all his options.
Oriakhi, from Lowell, Mass., committed to UConn as a sophomore in high school. He started all but two games as a UConn sophomore, averaging 9.6 points and 8.7 rebounds. He was a Wooden Award preseason top 50 selection and on the Naismith Award Watch list heading into this season, but he did not start in six games and his minutes, points and rebound averages all dropped significantly. His 4.8 rebound average was a career low and he had only two double-doubles.
After losing to Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last Thursday, Oriakhi did not indicate which way he was leaning.
“I’m going to let this one marinade,” he said in the locker room after the game.
The Huskies held a team meeting Monday.
“Everybody [on the staff] has been meeting individually with different players too,” Blaney said. “I have not talked to Alex yet.”
This likely is just the first departure from the UConn roster. Guard Jeremy Lamb and center Andre Drummond are expected to enter the NBA draft. It is possible other players will decide to leave in light of the tournament ban, but Oriakhi was the only one who could leave without missing a season.