Halil Kanacevic was in the front row for Tim Welsh’s introductory press conference Apr. 1, symbolically seated next to Charles Jenkins—the Flying Dutchmen’s leading rebounder and their leading scorer listening to their new head coach.
But while Kanacevic looked—and, in interviews conducted that morning and the following week, sounded—like someone who planned to remain a core player at Hofstra in the post-Tom Pecora era, he was already uncertain about his future in Hempstead.
Kanacevic’s doubts grew stronger as the days passed and culminated last week with the freshman requesting and receiving a release from his scholarship and beginning the process of transferring to another school.
“When you sign a letter of intent, you want to play for Hofstra University or a certain university,” Kanacevic told Defiantly Dutch last night. “But anyone that knows the process knows the fact is that you’re really signing to play for a certain team and that you’re expecting to play for that coach. And when coach Pecora left, the fact [is] that I didn’t sign up for this situation, so I no longer felt comfortable.”
Kanacevic, who earned CAA all-rookie honors after averaging 8.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, said he was ready to ask for his release as soon as Pecora informed the team he was leaving for Fordham March 24, but athletic director Jack Hayes told players he wouldn’t grant a release to anyone until a new coach was in place. Once Welsh was hired, those around Kanacevic suggested he take his time making a decision.
Kanacevic expressed optimism, both in his public comments and his discussions with Welsh, because he didn’t want to generate any negative attention nor indicate he wanted to leave until he was positive he was ready to do so.
“I didn’t want to tell them ‘Hey guys, I’m thinking about this’ and at the end of the day it doesn’t happen,” Kanacevic said. “That might cause drama or conflict that you don’t want. When I finally decided that I was going to transfer, I sat down with couple of [people] and said ‘This is the deal.’ As the days went on, I told more [people] and I had my meetings with coach and then with Jack Hayes.”
Kanacevic said his biggest regret was telling Welsh earlier this month that he wasn’t thinking about transferring. “Someone gave me a little advice, talk to the coach, reassure him you’re not leaving,” Kanacevic said. “I was like ‘All right.’ I did that. I probably never should have done that, because I kind of lied to the coach [and gave him] the wrong impression [saying] ‘I’m not going anywhere’ as far as the rumors.
“He brought it up, when I had a meeting with coach Welsh, and I basically told him ‘Man, that was a mistake I made and I shouldn’t have done that to you. I misled you.’ He asked if there was a reason and it was the reason I told you—not the situation I signed up for.”
The most difficult part of the process for Kanacevic, meanwhile, was breaking the news to the teammates with whom he had grown close during his year on campus and leaving behind a squad that would likely be among the pre-season favorites if he remained in the fold.
“I don’t know if I’ll find guys like that ever again—guys like Charles, Nat, Greg, Dave, Yves, guys like that—I don’t think I’ll ever find guys like that to play with, such good people on and off the court,” Kanacevic said. “Some family people asked questions, like if they were so great, then why leave? But some of those guys, they’re only going to be [at Hofstra] for another year and then they’re on to their future.
“[Teammates] said ‘At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for you.’ [There’s] talk about going to the NCAA Tournament, that is great and all, but at the end of the day, you don’t graduate with your team. You graduate alone. You’ve basically got to look out for yourself at the end of the day.”
Kanacevic’s release is of the “conditional” variety, meaning Hofstra has given him a list of schools—“about 10,” said Kanacevic—to which he cannot transfer. Kanacevic said he couldn’t reveal those schools, but that it includes those that are on Hofstra’s schedule over the next couple years.
“Jack Hayes said he does not want to play me in the future,” Kanacevic said.
A Hofstra spokesman indicated Friday the school would not discuss Kanacevic's possible departure, but prohibiting him from transferring to certain schools would be an arrangement similar to the one Rutgers had with Mike Rosario, who was also told he couldn’t transfer to a school that the Scarlet Knights would play next season.
As for Kanacevic, it is very likely, according to another source close to the situation, that Hofstra has declared Fordham off-limits as well as several other local schools.
Kanacevic hasn’t scheduled any official visits and can still technically return to Hofstra. But he said he expects to leave now that he has asked for his release.
“I’m not one to go back on my decision,” Kanacevic said. “I think that’s just something wrong to do, if you say you’re doing something [and then] ‘Oh I changed my mind.’ You don’t play with people like that. I don’t want to be played like that. It’s pretty evident that this is going to happen.”