Former Georgia guard Mike Mercer has found a new home court in Tampa, Fla., fewer than two weeks after being dismissed from Dennis Felton's squad for being a "disruption."
The junior from Snellville will transfer to the University of South Florida, a team that finished 3-13 in the Big East last season, after he finishes this semester's classes in Athens.
"It came down to three schools, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and South Florida, and I wanted to go somewhere where I could step in and play immediately," Mercer said.
First-year South Florida head coach Stan Heath, who coached at Arkansas from 2002 until this season, said he contacted Georgia as soon as he got the news Mercer had been released.
"We want Mike to do well and have a great experience here," he said. "We want to make sure academically he's doing the things necessary to be successful here. We have four guys on our team that have transferred, and three that did so midseason just like Mike, so we have experience as a school of guys coming in and being supportive and giving them second chances."
Mercer averaged 12.2 points per game during his stint in Athens, but has not played in a game for Georgia since Feb. 10, when he tore his right ACL in a game at South Carolina. He said schools began contacting him about transfering after he was suspended for 15 games during the preseason for missing academic appointments.
"I am pleased to see it, especially after talking with coach Heath," Felton said of Mercer finding a new home. "I am very, very hopeful that Mike will have a great second half of his career there."
Last season's two leading scorers, Mercer and forward Takais Brown, have been dismissed for team policy violations by Felton this season. Sophomore Albert Jackson, who along with Mercer and Brown was suspended prior to the season for academic violations, will return following a six-game suspension next weekend. Junior guard Billy Humphrey recently was charged with possession of a weapon on campus but has returned to the basketball court. Despite all that, both Heath and Mercer spoke highly of Felton and the Georgia basketball program.
"Around coaching ranks there's a tremendous amount of respect for Dennis and the way he runs his program," Heath said. "And I think all coaches go through situations where we have to make changes and do what's best for our program."
"I really can't tell people what to think about him, but he is a great coach," Mercer said. "He is a disciplinarian coach and wants his players to succeed on and off the court. There is nothing bad that you can say about him."
Per NCAA regulations regarding transfers, Mercer, who said he has family in the Tampa area, will not be eligible to play for the Bulls until next season. Since he transferred during the middle of the season, he will remain on the sidelines until the finish of next winter's final exams, Heath said.
"Sometimes kids grow, they change, and they find a new scene to be good for them. And we hope that's the case with Mike," Heath said.
- Contributing: Lawrence Conneff