NEW ORLEANS — With the banging of construction on Tulane’s new football stadium providing a noisy backdrop, men’s basketball coach Ed Conroy addressed the daunting task of reconstructing his gutted team at a Friday news conference.
Speaking publicly for the first time about losing his two best players, Conroy added two more names to the list of departures, bringing the total to six impending transfers less than two weeks after the Green Wave (20-15) completed its first 20-win season since 2000 and reached its first postseason tournament since 2000.
“It was a season of accomplishment,” Conroy said. “Certainly we think there’s even brighter days ahead.”
That could be wishful thinking without point guard Ricky Tarrant, the 2011-12 Conference USA freshman of the year, and power forward Josh Davis, a first-team All-Conference selection this season. Four other players also have obtained releases to transfer: junior Ben Cherry, sophomore Lotanna Nwogbo and seldom-used freshmen RaAnthony Sanders and Marc Eddy Norelia.
The returning players, who stood in the back of the room while Conroy and Athletic Director Rick Dickson took questions, outnumbered the early departures by just one. The leading returning scorer, Tre Drye, averaged 4.6 points.
Conroy’s voice wavered when he talked about Tarrant, a sophomore point guard who averaged 15.7 points and 3.6 assists to earn second-team all-league honors a year after making the first team as a freshman. Conroy drove to Birmingham, Ala., in a last-ditch effort to convince him to stay last Friday during Tulane’s spring break, but he said Tarrant told him he wanted to play closer to home.
“It was disappointing and unexpected,” Conroy said. “I wouldn’t say I’m shocked because of the culture of college basketball. There was never one day I went to practice and didn’t enjoy coaching Ricky Tarrant. He worked extremely hard and he was extremely productive. I told him you are halfway to one of the most valuable degrees in the world, halfway to probably becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer and you’ve won 35 games in two years.”
Tarrant, who said he had nothing negative to say about Conroy nor Tulane when he spoke to The Advocate about his decision to leave earlier this week, will have to sit out a year wherever he ends up becaise NCAA transfer rules. Dickson said Tulane had released Tarrant to play anywhere other than a school in the American Athletic Conference, which will be the Green Wave’s new league in 2014-15.
Davis, a junior on course to graduate in May, is in an entirely different situation. He could turn professional and play in Europe or the United States after averaging a Conference USA-high 10.7 rebounds while finishing fourth in the league in scoring (17.6 points per game). He also could use his final year of eligibility to play as a graduate student in college and would be eligible to play immediately.
Conroy said Davis had been up front about his status from beginning to end.
“He’s been absolutely mature about the process,” Conroy said. “Josh has probably as many options as any young man in the country. He is exploring all of those, including a return to Tulane.”
Cherry, a walk-on junior who is due to graduate in May, averaged 4.4 points this season but got white hot from 3-point range in conference play, hitting 11 in a row over a four-game stretch.
Conroy said Cherry, who followed him to Tulane from his previous coaching stop at The Citadel, was set to enter the military but had received a one-year deferment and wanted to play his final season in his home state of North Carolina so he could be closer to his parents. Tulane is dangling a scholarship offer in case he changes his mind.
Conroy said he planned to add players when the spring signing period begins on April 17. Tulane signed three in the fall and has room for more now, but the Green Wave likely will build around returning freshman guards Louis Dabney and Kajon Mack next season. Conroy said Dabney, who was not 100 percent healthy this season while recovering from a torn ACL in his senior year at nearby Riverside Academy, averaged 2.2 points while backing up Tarrant at point guard. Mack averaged 2.7 points but was the most athletic player on the team.
“I think people are going to see why Lou’s the highest-rated recruit we’ve had next year,” Conroy said. “He has great versatility. He’s an extremely strong penetrator. He’s going to be a sensational player for us. Kajon has the athleticism to play at a really high level.”