By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Cherelle George didn't expect to come so close to Purdue again.
The free agent pickup for the Indiana Fever says she's responsible for Purdue spending two years on probation. That's why she found it an odd coincidence that a team that plays just 65 miles from the West Lafayette campus would sign her.
"My mother was scared," George joked. "She said 'Don't come out of your hotel room."'
George's joke hides the pain she said she still deals with after making an error in judgment that sent shockwaves through the Purdue athletic program.
She spent the 2005-06 regular season terrorizing opposing backcourts before being named the Big Ten's top reserve. Before the conference tournament began, the school suspended her indefinitely while investigating her for NCAA and university rules violations. Eventually, then-Purdue assistant coach Katrina Merriweather said she typed, corrected and revised a paper for George.
On top of the probation, the Purdue women's basketball team lost two scholarships for George's action and other violations. George never returned to the program and hasn't played a game of organized basketball since. Now, she's set to play in the Fever's preseason opener Saturday at Chicago.
George is excited about what lies ahead, but she still thinks about what happened at Purdue. She had hoped to return to the Boilermakers.
"I don't agree I should have been suspended indefinitely," George told The Associated Press. "Did she (Merriweather) help me with the paper? Yes. I feel Purdue had to suspend me to protect themselves."
When it became unclear if the program would welcome her back, she left on her own.
"I paid my dues," she said. "I sat out a whole year. But everything happens for a reason."
The collateral damage was extensive. George said she feels responsible for coach Kristy Curry leaving Purdue for Texas Tech after the 2005-06 season. When Curry left, highly touted recruits Amber Harris and Dee Dee Jernigan decided to go elsewhere.
George was still on scholarship while still suspended the next season. She was heavy-hearted when North Carolina point guard Ivory Latta torched the Boilermakers for 21 points in an 84-72 win that kept the Boilermakers out of the Final Four.
She feels she let the team down.
"Do I have regrets? Of course I do," she said. "I do really feel like the whole situation was horrible because that team would have been really remarkable."
George transferred to Oklahoma City University, an NAIA school, after leaving Purdue. She said she would have played this past season, but Purdue didn't grant her a release. She said she has since graduated from Oklahoma City University with a degree in kinesiology.
She kept in game shape by practicing with the Oklahoma City team before deciding to attend a free agent camp in Tampa a month ago, where Fever coaches noticed her. She made an impression on new Fever coach Lin Dunn during training camp.
"Just quick as lighting," Dunn said. "Like a little waterbug, just scoots all over that floor. She really has come in here and done a good job for us."
George said the transition to pro practices has been difficult, especially with the long layoff.
"I think I'm doing all right," she said. "I think it's a big adjustment from college. As far as the intensity from it, it's next level. I just leave it up to the coaches to decide what happens, but all I can do is give my all."
Her height -- or lack thereof -- is one of the first things that stand out about her on a basketball court.
"I'm 5-2 1/2, there's nothing I can do about that," she said. "I get posted up a lot, but I'm also quick. There's disadvantages to it, and there's advantages to it."
Now that she has an unexpected chance to play pro ball, she hopes to take full advantage of it. And maybe, she'll be able to move forward.
"I'm very excited for the chance to play," she said of Saturday's game. "I'm going to go out and give it my all -- pressure the ball and do what I've been doing. It will be a challenge."