Taking freshman back tough call, Smith says

Updated: January 17, 2005, 9:48 PM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

After a one-week absence, Joe Crawford was officially welcomed back to the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team Monday. But coach Tubby Smith said on the weekly SEC teleconference that Crawford will face "some sanctions" for leaving the team and saying he was going to transfer.

Smith declined to say what those sanctions might be, and did not say whether Crawford will play Wednesday when the Wildcats travel to Mississippi. However, Crawford resumed practicing with the team Monday afternoon.

Smith said this was not an easy call.

"It was tough, very tough," he said. "It was not an easy decision."

In a university news release, Smith sounded a more conciliatory note.

"We're pleased that Joe is back with us and working out with the team," Smith said in the statement. "As a leader, it's important to have patience and give young people the space to make their own decisions. We're glad Joe has chosen to rejoin us. Our commitment to Joe remains to help him become a better person, better student and better basketball player. It's the same commitment we make to anyone who is a part of Kentucky basketball."

Crawford missed two games. After playing only three minutes in a nationally televised game against No. 2 Kansas, he told Smith last week that he intended to transfer because of a lack of playing time. Crawford's family helped him pack up his belongings and moved him out of Wildcat Lodge and they returned to Detroit.

But Kentucky refused to release Crawford from his National Letter of Intent. Had he transferred without that release and without finishing his freshman year at UK, he would have lost a year of eligibility.

Word began to circulate last Friday that Crawford was set to return to Lexington. He and his family came back to Kentucky's campus and met with Smith on Sunday.

As it stands now, Crawford could finish the season at Kentucky and transfer without penalty beyond sitting out next year, per NCAA rules. But he said in the school's release that he's committed to the program.

"I'm glad to be back and I'm ready to give this my all," Crawford said. "I'm thankful that Coach Smith has given me a second chance, even though he didn't have to. That shows me that he's glad that I'm a part of this team.

"The hardest thing about last week was being away from my teammates because of our bond. Since I've been back, they've treated me well and welcomed me with open arms. I'm back and I want to finish my college career as a Kentucky Wildcat."

Crawford played in all 12 games before leaving the team. He leads Kentucky's reserves in minutes at 13.3 per game and is averaging averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com.