By COLBY COTTER
There has been a flurry of activity around the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team this offseason. There have been plenty of coming and goings, but the past 24 hours were the wildest yet for the Rams.
Fatts Russell announced his decision to return to school, removing his name from the NBA Draft pool. That announcement came on the heels of the NCAA tabling the one-time transfer exception to January 2021, meaning a host of incoming URI players will be forced to sit out a season before playing.
As if those two stories weren’t big enough, an ESPN report on Wednesday delivered somewhat of a bombshell: incoming Rhody freshman Ishmael Leggett had been targeted in a drive-by shooting allegedly orchestrated by former Oregon football commit Luke Hill.
Leggett was not harmed in the attack. He and Hill both previously attended St. John’s College High School. A redacted police report obtained by Ryan Sprouse of WUSA9 indicates that the altercation came about because Leggett is dating Hill’s ex-girlfriend.
Hill had already had his Oregon offer dropped well before this. He now faces eight different charges, including an attempted murder rap.
"I am aware of the situation with Ishmael Leggett and have been in contact with him and his family,” URI head coach David Cox said in a statement released by the school. “Thankfully he was not harmed, as his well-being is my primary concern.”
Cox’s day brightened some after the serious situation in the morning. Russell hadn’t given any public indication of what way he was leaning with his decision, but there was rampant speculation that the rash of recent transfers would drive him to the G-League or to play overseas in Europe.
Russell squashed that speculation by paying homage to Michael Jordan and the Bulls. His Instagram post announcing his return was titled “The Last Dance” and came alongside a mocked-up press release echoing Jordan’s famous “I’m Back” declaration from 1995.
Cox responded to Russell by tweeting out a photo of the pair smiling and embracing during a game last season. The Rhody head coach has always been particularly close to the splashy guard.
“He understands the guard position really well,” Russell said of Cox, right after he had been promoted to head coach. “He’s been helping me on the court with a lot of things.
“I’m a player that plays up-tempo and in transition. That style really helps me.”
Cox has even gone as far to say that he’ll ride Russell “until the wheels fall off”. He may just have to do that this upcoming season, with there being only a slight chance any of the incoming transfers will be eligible.
The NCAA’s decision to delay the possibility of a one-time transfer exception means Malik Martin, the Mitchell twins and Allen Betrand will all likely have to sit out some or all of the 2020-21 season.
As of now, URI’s eligible players for next season are: Russell, Jermaine Harris, Jeremy Sheppard, Antwan Walker, D.J. Johnson, Leggett and Tres Berry. Berry and Leggett are incoming true freshmen. Harris and Russell are the two most experienced returnees.
There could be more names added to the Rhody roster at any point; they still have two open scholarships.