Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

UH sports
Lenient basketball penalty approved

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Every player on the Hawai'i men's basketball team will be eligible to play in the Rainbow Classic in mid-December.

What happens prior to that remains a mystery.

Still, the confusing and frustrating investigation into basketball players from foreign countries was made somewhat clearer yesterday by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors.

After a day-long meeting in Indianapolis, the board announced yesterday that it approved a policy that reduces penalties for players who may have played with professionals in European leagues prior to enrolling at American schools.

According to the policy, any player who is ruled to have participated in such leagues will have to sit out 20 percent of the total number of games he played in those leagues. For example, if a player participated in 10 games with pros in Europe, he will have to sit out two NCAA games this season.

The maximum penalty is eight games, meaning a player who played in more than 100 games with pros in Europe will not have to sit out more than eight NCAA games.

"Considering the alternative, it's good news for us," UH head coach Riley Wallace said.

Hawai'i has three players currently under investigation for past participation in European leagues: Predrag Savovic, Luc-Arthur Vebobe and Mindaugas Burneika.

If the board did not approve the new policy, players would have to sit out one NCAA game for every game played with professionals. UH center Haim Shimonovich sat out 22 games under that policy last season.

"As a conference, we supported the (new) proposal, so we think it's a fair compromise," said Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson. "I think you have to say it's good news for the University of Hawai'i."

With the policy now set, the next step for the NCAA is to determine the exact number of games each player under investigation played in Europe.

No date for a final decision has been set, but a NCAA spokesman said: "The timetable is to get it done as soon as possible."

Vebobe is believed to have played in 11 games with pros in France. If the NCAA accepts that, Vebobe will have to sit out two or three UH games (20 percent of 11 is 2.2, but the NCAA has not yet decided how to handle the fractions of games).

Burneika did not play in any such leagues in Lithuania, and Wallace expects him to be eligible the entire season. "We're pretty sure with his case because one player from the same league was already cleared," Wallace said.

The biggest mystery surrounds Savovic, the team's leading scorer last season and a first-team All-WAC guard. He admits having played in top-level leagues in Yugoslavia, but also says he never had a contract, was never paid, and was not even aware that his teammates were paid professionals.

"It's something that's difficult to prove," Wallace said. "But we feel like he shouldn't be penalized any games if he had no contract and had no idea he was playing with pros."

Even if Savovic is penalized the maximum eight games, he would be eligible to return for the opener of the Rainbow Classic on Dec. 19.

All players who are ruled ineligible for games will be allowed to practice and participate in exhibition games.

Also yesterday, the board modified the "5/8" scholarship rule for men's basketball to a "5/9" rule for the next two seasons.

Prior to this year, teams could award no more than five scholarships in one year, and no more than eight over two years.

For the next two seasons, teams can award five scholarships in one year, and nine over two years. The rule was modified because several teams, including Hawai'i, fell short of the maximum 13 scholarships allowed in men's basketball.

Even after awarding five scholarships this year, UH has 11 players on scholarship.