Early averaged 7.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game when he was suspended in December (Photo Courtesy: GoMocs.com)
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Chris Early has played his last game at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Head coach John Shulman announced Monday afternoon the senior forward has been dismissed from the team for conduct detrimental to the team. Early was suspended indefinitely in early December after it was discovered he made disparaging remarks about Shulman on his personal Twitter page in late November.
Shulman said he met with Early on Monday morning to deliver the news.
Early will remain on scholarship at UTC and resume classes to complete his degree, but he will not be a member of the basketball team in any way.
"We both decided that it's a better situation right now for him to focus on school and getting his degree," Shulman said before practice Monday. "I think we're both at peace with it. The scrutiny we would all be under if he returned would just be too much.
"He has our full support to focus on what's important, and that's getting his degree."
Shulman said the decision was his alone to make, but he did seek a few opinions from "his people and mentors" and had discussions with UTC athletic director Rick Hart.
"It's been tough for everybody involved," Shulman said. "Everyone makes mistakes. Some are correctable, and some are not correctable. Chris can correct his by staying here and leaving a better legacy behind by getting his degree.
"He's a sensitive kid and a nice kid. I would think he would take back everything he said, but he can't. Once you hit send, you can't take it back."
Early made published six negative comments about Shulman over a five-day span in late November on his protected Twitter page. The comments were discovered December 16 before UTC played at Kentucky, and Early was subsequently sent home to Huntington, West Virginia.
The 6-foot-7 forward played in ten games this season, including eight starts. He ranked fifth on the team in scoring at 7.4 points per game and second in rebounding at six rebounds per contest at the time of his suspension.
Shulman said he did not think the decision would have a negative impact on the rest of the team. He said the team right now has "great chemistry" and was going to be "supportive of the decision either way."
The Mocs have gone 5-2 since Early was sent home, improving their record to 8-9 overall and 2-2 in SoCon play.
"We're going to support Chris. He's still one of our brothers and a part of our family," Shulman said. "The decision was never going to be a 'basketball' decision. It was going to be a 'Chris Early' decision, and this is what is best for him moving forward.
"Everybody wins here today in my mind. The only way someone would have lost is if we wouldn't have let Chris come back here and finish his classes and get his degree."
Shulman said Early will still have full use of UTC's athletic facilities to continue training for an expected professional career overseas after graduation.
Shulman also said he doesn't plan to ban his players from using Twitter. He also doesn't foresee the school making any changes to its social media policy, which prohibits negative comments directed towards fellow players, coaches or UTC officials.
"Unless we don't let anybody have freedom of speech, we can't do anything about it," Shulman said. "As long as Twitter and Facebook exist, a lot of people are going to hang themselves (with their words) every day. And that's not just kids. Adults do it all the time, too.
"I'm not condemning Chris for hating his coach at that time. He should have (hated me). But you can't go out there and write what's on your mind."