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NCAA denies Carr's waiver appeal to play for Gophers this season

Pittsburgh transfer and sophomore guard Marcus Carr won't play for the Gophers this season after the NCAA denied his waiver request for the second time, sources told the Star Tribune on Wednesday.

The U appealed the NCAA’s decision last week to deny Carr's initial waiver request to play this year. Major college transfers have to sit out one season unless their request is approved, per NCAA rules.

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Carr’s presence in the backcourt would've helped Amir Coffey and Isaiah Washington handle point guard duties this season after the loss of graduated senior Nate Mason.Carr, a Toronto native, averaged 10 points and a team-high four assists and started 27 games for Pittsburgh in 2017-18, but he transferred after Panthers coach Kevin Stallings was fired for a $10 million buyout in the spring.

"An absurd, unjustifiable ruling by the NCAA on Minnesota’s Marcus Carr," ESPN college hoops analyst Jay Bilas tweeted Wednesday. " 'Student-Athlete welfare' is a meaningless term. Forcing Carr to sit out benefits no one, just hurts an unpaid student. What a joke."

The Gophers opened the season 2-0 with wins against Nebraska Omaha and Utah. They play Sunday against Texas A&M in the Vancouver Showcase, which is in Carr's native Canada.

Carr tweeted a statement about the process a week ago when his waiver was first denied by the NCAA. 

“I went to Pitt to play for Coach (Kevin) Stallings and his staff,” he wrote. “They recruited me, gained my trust and believed in me. They were fired after two years! It was a toxic environment and difficult situation for me personally. It took a major toll on me emotionally. I should not be punished for needing a change. The NCAA is overlooking my well being and my mental health. These waivers and transfer rules need to change.”

The initial rejection was a surprise to the Gophers program, because other players around the country had received waiver approval to play this season. Minnesota coach Richard Pitino seemed confident even before Monday's win against Utah that Carr would not have to sit out this year. 

"He was recruited by a coach and staff who assured him they would be there," Pitino said. "To go to a place and after a year the coaches he went to the school for are gone – that’s a big deal.  People have got to understand a lot of these kids choose it for the head coach and the staff. That’s hard on young people. That’s why we think he should play right away.”

Some Minnesotans have seen their waivers granted by the NCAA this season. Siena transfer Jordan Horn, a St. Paul native, was eligible to play this season for North Dakota State after playing in 30 games last season with his old program, including 13 starts. Pepperdine transfer Trae Berhow, a Mayer, Minn. native, left after his coach was fired at the end of last season, but he was ruled eligible to play right away by the NCAA at Northern Iowa this fall. Berhow's hardship waiver included a family situation with his grandfather falling ill. 

Big Ten fans might remember the name Mark Smith at Illinois. The former four-star recruit and Illini freshman guard had his waiver granted last month to play this year at Missouri. Higher profile waivers granted this offseason were former Auburn standout Mustapha Heron at St. John’s and former Alabama forward Braxton Key getting to help Virginia compete for another ACC title this season.

Once the season started there were several waivers denied right away, including Carr's last week. But the NCAA granted Texas transfer James Banks' waiver to make his debut for Georgia Tech on Tuesday night in a loss against Tennessee. Banks saw his playing time decrease last season, so he looked for another program to get more opportunity. How that situation and other waivers were deemed more suited to be granted than Carr's case is a head scratcher for many Gophers fans on social media.

The Star Tribune contacted the NCAA for comment more than a week ago about the lack of consistency in waivers this year, but no response had been received as of Wednesday night.

Pitino said the U’s compliance department took care of its end of the waiver process. When reached for comment last week by the Star Tribune, Pitt athletics officials supplied a statement: “Pitt has cooperated and submitted the requested information to the NCAA regarding Marcus Carr’s waiver. … We wish Marcus all the best in his pursuit now and in the future.”

Carr joins junior guard Payton Willis, a transfer from Vanderbilt, as potential difference-­makers sitting on Pitino’s bench this season.

“I came here because of the environment, coach, and I believe in this team,” Carr said recently. “I believe they have a good chance to compete for a Big Ten title and make it to the NCAA tournament. If I’m not able to play this year, I just hope to get better, work on my craft and just get these guys better every day, because I want to see them succeed.”

Pitino gets commitment from wing player with St. Paul ties

Wasatch Academy (Utah) three-star wing Tre' Williams committed to the Gophers on Tuesday night -- and he plans to ink his letter of intent at the start of the early signing period Wednesday.

Williams, a 6-foot-5 native of Colony, Texas, was offered a scholarship by Minnesota coach Richard Pitino last weekend during his official visit to campus.

“I went out there and it was just amazing,” Williams told the Star Tribune. “The coaches showed my parents and I a lot of love. Everyone on the team gelled like a family. It was just a spot where I felt like I fit in.”

The only other official visit Williams took was to Pepperdine on Nov. 3, but he said Northwestern, Georgetown and Virginia Commonwealth were showing late interest as well.

Minnesota assistant Rob Jeter reached out to Williams last month, and then Pitino visited Williams at his high school last week to invite him to make an official visit to the Gophers.

“They told me they wanted me and needed somebody at my position,” Williams said. “He felt like I could come in and make a big impact. It was a quick process, but I’m glad it happened.”

Williams said his future role with the Gophers will be as an "energy guy who can score" and play multiple positions from combo guard to small forward. He also loves to play aggressive defensively.

The Gophers had their first member of the 2019 recruiting class, Sunrise Christian Academy (Kan.) forward Tray Jackson, switch his commitment to Missouri in October. So Williams is expected to fill one of the four scholarships Pitino has available for next season.

Before transferring to Wasatch Academy last year, Williams grew up playing basketball in Texas. He attended Colony High School, where his 6-5 older sister, Jade, became a McDonald's All-American and now is a sophomore forward at Duke.

Williams was born Marvin III. His father, Marvin Williams Jr., was a three-sport athlete at Princeton in the early 1990s. He stressed the importance of academics to his children, which is evident with his oldest son's 4.11 GPA. The Williams family wasn't only blown away by the new Gophers' facilities, but they also were impressed with the U's business school. Tre' plans to major in business and sports management.

"What impressed us the most was them having a plan about the career after basketball," Marvin Jr. said. "They lay the groundwork well in advance, so when that time comes all those things are thought out and are in place. That was a really big highlight."

Williams' mother, Kelly, grew up in the Twin Cities, attended and played basketball at Harding high school in St. Paul. Williams' grandmother and uncle on his mom's side live in Texas. 

"Everybody else is there," Marvin Jr. said about Minnesota. "They're ecstatic about it. Everybody is hitting us up, 'He looks good in a Gophers uniform.' They're excited about the potential."