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Ex-WMU hoops star Michael Flowers puts old school on blast, alleging lies in holding up transfer

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

They say breaking up is hard to do.

And Michael Flowers and Western Michigan are in the throes of an ugly split, last season's leading scorer accusing the university of lying about the circumstances surrounding his transfer, and the school insisting it's simply going by the book.

The end result has Flowers down in Mobile, Alabama, working out with his new teammates at South Alabama, but facing a season on the sidelines — as the whole situation has gone very public, with Flowers putting Western on blast in a tweet this week, and even earning the support of basketball analysts Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale.

Michael Flowers has transferred from Western Michigan to South Alabama.

"It's been very frustrating, because, personally, I did nothing but work extremely hard on and off the court," Flowers said of his three seasons at Western Michigan. "I treated everyone with respect, I did my job.

"I thought they would've had enough respect for me.

"It's been very disheartening."

Flowers, a former Southfield A&T star, started all 64 games over his last two years at Western Michigan, averaging 16.3 points — including a team-best 17.0 in 2019-20. But when longtime coach Steve Hawkins was fired after 17 seasons in March, Flowers and the team's second-leading scorer, Brandon Johnson (15.4 points), went looking for alternate options.

Johnson quickly landed at Minnesota, where he was to be immediately eligible, because he's a graduate transfer.

Flowers' path has been much rockier, given he is entering his senior season, and would have to get a waiver to play immediately. Santa Clara showed initial interest, but, needing a point guard for next season, moved on when nothing could get settled quickly.

That brought in South Alabama, which is finding the process frustrating, too — especially given the mass majority of this offseason's Division I transfers have been granted immediate eligibility at their new schools. Last week, the NCAA made Flowers one of the handful who weren't, denying his appeal.

That's where the rub comes in for Flowers, who said Western Michigan lied in its statement to the NCAA. Western, in reporting Flowers' transfer circumstances, said that while Flowers told new head coach Clayton Bates the week of April 13 that he wasn't ready to make his final decision on transferring, he told assistant coach Thomas Kelley the following day that he was, indeed, moving on. Flowers adamantly denies that conversation with Kelley took place, and Flowers and South Alabama submitted cell records to the NCAA to prove it.

"We wish Michael nothing but the best," said Bates, Western's new head coach, who was an assistant on Hawkins' staff. "Mike's appeal is generated by his new school he's attending, and has nothing to do with Western Michigan. The NCAA decides.

"We do not have anything to do with the decision the NCAA makes. We were asked to provide a timeline of events, which we did. The NCAA makes the ruling."

Asked if Flowers, 21, was lying about the conversations with Kelley, Bates said, "I'm not going to say that. We presented the facts, and we stand by those."

Flowers already had ideas of transferring for his final season, even if Hawkins was coach. But when Hawkins was fired, the ball got rolling fast. Flowers and Hawkins were extremely close. Hawkins was the one who recruited Flowers, and Hawkins was the first person Flowers saw that March 2018 morning when he got the phone call from his dad that his mother, Joyce, had died after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer.

"We just hugged and he told me he loved me," Flowers said. "He was gonna be there for me, whatever I needed."

And that's exactly what happened. Hawkins became Flowers' father figure when he wasn't at home; the two talked a lot, they went to lunch a lot.

So when Hawkins was fired, Flowers started thinking about moving on, but said Western Michigan athletic director Kathy Beauregard made it a point to tell the players that they would be involved in the search for the next head coach. Flowers, like most of the players, was hoping for Saddi Washington, but he stayed at Michigan.

Then, quickly, amid a COVID-19 pandemic that had put the university into a hiring freeze, Western turned to Bates, and hired him on a two-year deal.

Players were never involved in the process, Flowers said.

"That was the first (lie)," Flowers said.

The next day, Flowers talked to Bates, and the day after that, he officially requested to have his name put into the transfer portal, and the university obliged. Flowers and Beauregard spoke, and Flowers recalled it being a good chat; so did Beauregard. After that, though, Flowers said Beauregard "ghosted" him, never returning his calls and texts.

Santa Clara in late March or early April was first to approach Flowers, who had interest in going there. But it needed an immediately-eligible player. In filling out a standard form for the NCAA regarding a possible move to Santa Clara, Western said it still had a scholarship available for Flowers. This was before April 17.

For weeks, Flowers still hadn't officially decided whether he was actually leaving, and Bates, putting together his first team, was understandably getting antsy. In mid-April, he asked Flowers to make a decision ASAP, because if he was moving on, the school had to give his scholarship to another player.

Flowers told Bates he wasn't ready to make a decision, and Bates confirmed that conversation.

Then comes the conversation in question. Western said Flowers then told Kelley, a good friend, he was transferring. And on April 17, Western signed Josiah Freeman, a freshman guard from Virginia.

"Untrue," Flowers said. "TK and I hadn't talked on the phone for a week or two weeks. He was giving me my space."

Kelley didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from The News.

Western said in a June letter to the NCAA Flowers had told Kelley he was leaving. The News has viewed that letter.

Flowers insists, even today, he still was open to possibly returning to Western before Bates gave his scholarship away.

In other words, Flowers believes Bates made the decision for him.

Flowers desperately wanted to play the 2020-21 season, because he's on track to graduate this spring with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, and is looking to pursue a pro career overseas. In its appeal, South Alabama, where Flowers signed in mid-May, included a letter from Hawkins, detailing his relationship with Flowers.

In filling out the form for Flowers' NCAA appeal, this time Western left blank the question about whether a scholarship remained available for Flowers, saying it was sticking with its statement in regard to Santa Clara, even though the circumstances had changed.

The whole issue almost was a moot point, with the NCAA largely expected to pass a rule allowing a one-time transfer waiver for student-athletes, starting with this fall. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, that vote was put on hold, and now isn't expected to be passed until January, and won't go into effect until the 2021-22 season.

Still, the NCAA clearly has been more lenient in allowing waivers in this current climate. According to an early September tweet from college basketball writer Jeff Goodman, 90 waivers had been approved and just three had been denied with 131 pending. He said those numbers are unofficial, based on his conversations with coaches.

So, why the holdup on the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Flowers, South Alabama — which actually got word about Flowers through a current assistant coach at Western, Jacob Bullock — is wondering, especially given Western's coaching change. From its perspective, Western could make the waiver happen if it really wanted to. Western, however, counters that's not its responsibility, nor will it fudge the facts to make it so.

Meanwhile, the bitterness rolls on. On Wednesday, a Western Michigan women's assistant basketball coach posted a tweet likening the situation — without actually naming Flowers — to a bad breakup, where one partner decides to leave the other after three years, realizes there's nothing else out there, and then wants to come back. Beauregard retweeted that tweet.

"Since I've been a head coach, we've signed 22 transfers," said Richie Riley, head coach at South Alabama. "I've never experienced a situation where both parties aren't striving for what's best for the student-athlete. As a coach, that's who I am, that's what I think our profession has to be about. That we have some common sense and we use the facts that are in hand and we make a fair judgment.

"I just feel for Michael. Sometimes we forget these athletes we coach are still kids, they're still trying to grow up and grown into men and grown in women.

"And it's our job to help them do that."

"I just feel like it's unfair."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984