Sheldon Jeter is leaving Vanderbilt for personal reasons, and the men's basketball program has been supportive of his decision. What they aren't supportive of, according to sources at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is him playing in front of the Oakland Zoo.
The Commodores have apparently blocked Jeter's path to play for Pittsburgh, the Division I program closest to his Beaver Falls, PA home. Exact details have yet to come to light, but Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings may be using scholarship rules to keep Jeter from accepting a new scholarship with the Panthers. If Vandy doesn't release the sophomore wingman from his current pact with the university, he would be ineligible to accept athletic-based aid from Pittsburgh in the coming year.
Jeter was a key piece of Vanderbilt's rebuilding process and their top-ranked recruit in 2012. His emergence midway through the season helped key this team to a 16-win season after losing 93 percent of the Commodores' scoring from 2011-2012. He was a serious contender to start at small forward in 2014, and at the very least would have been relied on as a key rotation player this fall.
Now, it appears as though Vanderbilt will suffer through the same public relations problems that Wisconsin's Bo Ryan did last year. Ryan attempted to block Jarrod Uthoff's transfer to Big Ten rivals by severely limiting the list of schools that he could attend and still have his Badger scholarship released. Uthoff eventually chose his hometown Iowa Hawkeyes when Ryan and his staff relented with their requirements.
Ryan's decision to limit Uthoff's choices made a bit more sense, however. By excluding league opponents, common out-of-conference opponents (Marquette and Iowa State), and teams they'd face in the Big Ten-ACC challenge (the entire ACC), the Badgers case for restricting Uthoff's movement was, on its face, based on keeping him from competing against Wisconsin. Vanderbilt doesn't have such ties to Pittsburgh. They won't face the Panthers in 2013-2014 and, in fact, haven't faced them since Barry Goheen became a common swear word in Shadyside and beyond back in the 1988 NCAA Tournament.
There must be more to this story than meets the eye, because it doesn't seem to add up. Stallings and his staff had no problem allowing DeMarre Carroll to play for his uncle in Missouri, and the Tigers are arguably a bigger potential rival then than the Panthers are now. Do-everything forward Andre Walker was cleared to leave Nashville after graduating early and played at Xavier as a graduate student despite the fact that the two teams met each other that following season. Shooting guard A.J. Astroth was cleared to transfer this season as well, and there have been no reports of complications with his process (though Jeter is a higher profile case).
Still, the news is a public relations problem for a team that has had a few of them lately, and it's certainly not helping Kevin Stallings's case as one of the toughest coaches to play for in the SEC. Let's hope that details emerge that shed some more light on the situation, and that this can all be resolved without damaging the reputations of either a promising young basketball player or the Vanderbilt hoops program.