Kevin Punter, Jakeenan Gant mull decisions in wake of Frank Haith news

Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 9:42 p.m. CDT; updated 1:40 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 21, 2014

COLUMBIA — State Fair Community College guard Kevin Punter was scheduled to sign his national letter of intent to play at Missouri on Friday or Monday after verbally committing to the school on April 4.

But Thursday, Punter said he's "not signing anything," instead planning on "just laying low right now," after multiple national media outlets reported that Missouri coach Frank Haith has agreed to become the new coach at Tulsa.

Neither Missouri nor Tulsa has confirmed the move. As of Thursday, Missouri could only confirm that it gave Tulsa permission to talk to Haith, who flew to Tulsa on a charter plane out of Columbia Regional Airport at around 4 p.m. Thursday.

The blitz of reports and rumors that followed proved enough for Punter, who had heard for weeks that Haith may be looking to leave Missouri, to decide to keep his options open.

"He's got calls from a lot of different schools," said State Fair head coach Kevin Thomas, who said Punter is reopening his recruitment. "We're going to monitor the situation."

Thomas said Punter, a 6-foot-4 guard, was pursued by Cincinnati, Gonzaga, Pittsburgh, Western Kentucky, UTEP and others during a sophomore season in which he averaged 20.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and was named a JUCO All-American.

Punter was expected to offset some of the backcourt production Missouri lost with the departures of Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross. Ross is on track to graduate, and Clarkson (formerly of Tulsa) and Brown both declared for the NBA draft. 

Thomas and Punter first heard rumors that Haith might be involved in the Wake Forest vacancy, which former Tulsa coach Danny Manning filled on April 4.

"We had heard some rumors, but you never know the truth," Thomas said. "Every time there's a job opening, names get thrown out."

While Punter lays low and waits for official word, Jakeenan Gant, a 6-foot-8 power forward out of Springfield, Ga., is also mulling over his options.

Gant spoke with the coaches of his Amateur Athletic Union basketball team, Southern Stampede, on Thursday. Gant, a four-star recruit who signed a National Letter of Intent with Missouri, could be released from his letter of intent by the university if Haith leaves Missouri.

"Man what just happened?" Gant tweeted Thursday. "This is crazy."

Donnie Arrington, Gant's former high school coach at Effingham County, said he spoke to Gant's mother and that she said she had no idea where her son will land.

Aljami Durham, the founder of Southern Stampede and head coach of its 17-and-under team, confirmed Gant had reached out to him Thursday. He refused to comment on the details of that conversation.

The Tulsa World reported Thursday that Haith was a serious candidate for the Tulsa job. ESPN and both followed with reports that Haith and the university had reached a verbal agreement.

Both outlets reported this while Haith was still en route to Tulsa on the charter plane.

Haith went 77-28 in three years at Missouri after taking over for Mike Anderson in 2011. He led the Tigers to two NCAA Tournament appearances in his first two seasons, both resulting in first-game losses.

Haith was named Associated Press Coach of the Year after Missouri went 30-5 and won the Big 12 Tournament in 2011-2012, his first year in Columbia after seven seasons at the University of Miami, but the then-No. 2 Tigers were upset by No. 15 Norfolk State.

Haith led Missouri to the NCAA Tournament once again the next year after a 23-10 season, but the Tigers were upset again, this time by Colorado. 

Haith lost stars Phil Pressey, Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi to professional leagues after that season and entered 2013-2014 with his first roster of his own recruits.

Before the season could begin, Haith was suspended for five games by the NCAA for infractions involving Haith's relationship with former booster and convicted felon Nevin Shapiro during his time at Miami.

It was a shaky start to what wound up being a disappointing year, as Haith and Missouri missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six seasons.

The Tigers finished the regular season and Southeastern Conference tournament at 22-11 but stumbled to a 9-9 record and ninth-place finish in conference play. Missouri was eliminated by Southern Mississippi in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament.

Missourian reporter Christian Clark contributed to this story.

Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.

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