Chris Early's college basketball career has come to a premature conclusion at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Coach John Shulman dismissed Early from the team Monday after a three-week indefinite suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
Shulman said Early will remain on scholarship so he can complete his Sport and Leisure degree and use UTC's athletic facilities to prepare for a professional career overseas.
"I feel like he had the best interest of the team in mind," Early said Monday night by phone. "I'm sure he thought about it for a while. I don't know how to explain it. I'm OK with it.
"I want to finish up my degree and play professionally."
Shulman suspended Early indefinitely on Dec. 16 when he learned of disparaging remarks Early made on Twitter in November. They likely were made public by a childhood friend.
One tweet read: "I hate this man [Shulman] with a passion, each and every day I have to see him I become more and more miserable."
Early said he tweeted those words, and other hateful comments, in confidence to friends -- not expecting them to become public knowledge -- while taking a positive approach to practice every day even though he'd been benched in favor of walk-on Drew Baker.
"I tweeted those things thinking they wouldn't get out and it wouldn't be a big deal," said Early, who has four classes remaining, including two internships. "My attitude never changed on the surface with my teammates and with Coach."
Early returned to campus on Dec. 26 and worked out on occasion with teammates when they were around, without them when they were gone.
He said he understands Shulman's decision.
"I don't want to be a distraction to my teammates," said Early, who received the dismissal notice Monday morning. "They have a right to play without distractions and people saying this and that. I don't want to take anything more from them.
"I feel that I've taken a lot from them already. They've been playing well and I hope it continues. I don't want to be a distraction."
The announcement comes after three weeks of conversations among several parties. Early met several times with Shulman, athletic director Rick Hart and UTC assistant coaches.
Shulman said he conferred with Hart, his staff, a few players and coaches who have helped guide his career.
"We are doing what we're supposed to do. We're helping his life," Shulman said. "If we kick him out of school, then you're affecting lives.
"It's been tough for everybody involved."
Early averaged 7.4 points and six rebounds in his 10 games this season with a season-high 18 points in a double-overtime loss at College of Charleston.
The Mocs lost at third-ranked Kentucky by 25 points the day after learning of his tweets. Their only other loss since the suspension came at Tennessee. Their 5-2 record without Early included Southern Conference victories over North Division rivals Western Carolina and Appalachian State.
"Other guys have come in and we've kept on rolling," senior point guard Keegan Bell said. "Coach had the seniors when it first went down, but we haven't had any say-so in it and we've been rolling on."
Early, a 6-foot-7 forward, began his career at Oklahoma as a highly regarded prep player out of Huntington, W.Va., who played on three state championship teams with the likes of O.J. Mayo and Patrick Patterson.
But then-Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel dismissed Early before his freshman season, and Early transferred to UTC for the spring semester of 2008.
"Chris has matured greatly in his years at Chattanooga," mentor Greg Thompson said from Huntington. "There's empirical evidence with him being named a captain this year. Some credit goes to him; some goes to his coaches, teammates, advisers and professors."
Everybody involved in the decision -- from Early to Hart -- agrees that the best possible ending for his career will come when he wears a cap and gown.
And lessons have been learned.
"Anything you put up on the Internet is forever and you can't take it back," Early said. "Me not playing hurts our team. That's not what I wanted to do. I had no intentions of that.
"I made a mistake that is costing myself and my teammates. Coach made a decision and I have to deal with it."
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP