Forward Michael Graham has asked for and been granted permission to withdraw from Georgetown University so that he can attend the University of the District of Columbia, Georgetown basketball Coach John Thompson said yesterday.
Graham, who as a freshman was instrumental in Georgetown's drive to the national championship last season, had been removed from the team's active roster before this season by Thompson, who cited Graham's academic inconsistencies.
Graham remained on scholarship and attended Georgetown during the fall semester. But on Tuesday, Thompson said, Graham went in and asked for his release from Frank Rienzo, Georgetown's director of athletics. Thompson said, "I have not talked to Michael" about his departure.
Last night, UDC Coach Wil Jones expressed surprise when told of Graham's decision to leave Georgetown and play at his school. "He is?" Jones asked 90 minutes before his team was scheduled to play at Elizabeth City (N.C.) State. "Wow, I didn't know that. I had heard rumors, like everybody else. Oooh. Will I take him? Hell, who wouldn't take a kid who helped win the national championship? But I have to talk to the people back in Washington, and I have to talk to John (Thompson) because I didn't know of all this."
Graham could not be reached for comment last night.
Graham will be eligible to play at UDC after he sits out one full academic year, according to John Leavens, director of legislative services for the NCAA, whose office handles eligibility issues. "He'd have to enroll at UDC for a full year and make satisfactory progress toward a degree in that year."
Graham's departure ends an ongoing saga in which Thompson tried various means of getting Graham to apply himself academically.
"Michael's biggest problem is academic motivation," Thompson said yesterday. "The biggest thing that disappoints me about this is that I know, as well as I know anybody that I've ever had here, that Michael had the innate intelligence to do the work. His physical commitment has to catch up with his verbal commitment.
"Anybody who sits down and talks with him knows the kid is not dumb," Thompson said. "That's what I found so refreshing when I first sat down and talked with him. I knew I was not talking to a dumb person. He's definitely a bright person. But a person can only be counseled by so many people so many times. He's 21 years old. He's getting to the point now where there's not going to be anybody to talk to."
Graham, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound power forward, was a rugged, intimidating presence inside for the Hoyas. He played very well toward the end of the season, especially in the NCAA tournament. Thompson said he felt that Graham had a hard time handling all of the attention he was receiving, and added that he didn't maintain a similar drive to complete his academic work.
"When you have Michael Graham's ability, you don't have to worry about playing basketball," Thompson said. "There's always somebody who will take you in and keep you eligible. Let's make that clear. Basketball is never going to be an issue with him. But that's not the point. In the final analysis, what is he going to be able to do? That's what frustrated me."
Thompson said he first decided Graham would not play this year after the second semester of the 1983-84 academic year. "He could have been made eligible here," Thompson said. "Had I permitted him to do the things he could have done this summer (in school), he could have been eligible. Had I forcefully jumped in, Michael would have been able to do whatever we wanted him to do. But what (good) is that doing him?"
Thompson was asked if Georgetown could have won the national championship without Graham, who averaged just under five points and five rebounds per game. "Yes, I think so," Thompson said. "If we go with one individual, (7-foot center) Patrick Ewing caused us to win the national championship. I think he (Graham) was a major contributor."
Graham's arrival at Georgetown also was somewhat controversial. An all-Met selection from Spingarn High School, he did not receive a diploma until he passed courses in English and math in the summer of 1983 in the Upward Bound program that was accredited by the District public school system.
Graham said two days before he enrolled, "It feels great just being able to start over again . . . this is a chance to straighten out my life."
Thompson recalled those words yesterday and said, "The damnedest thing is that if you sit down and talk to him right now, you would get the impression that he's going to make the commitment."
Graham's reputation as a player with off-the-court problems began in high school, and Thompson said he was very much aware of it.
Thompson said yesterday, "I want to go on record as saying that kid has never been a bum, a hoodlum or any of that stuff. Michael's biggest problem is motivating himself to do his schoolwork. Whatever problem he's had with other people, I don't know.
"We didn't do any more or any less for Michael than for anybody else we've had here. It will still be my responsibility to provide an opportunity. If I had the situation to do over again, I would do it again."