This archived article was written by: KC Smurthwaite
The USU Eastern men’s basketball team (9-2) enters this weekend’s match up with Colorado Kings as a top 25 team in the National Junior College Athletic Association. Unfortunately, the season will end March 3, 2012, no matter what the Golden Eagles’ accomplish during the season.
Last week the NJCAA handed down another set of probations against USU Eastern’s men’s basketball team, which includes a post-season ban for the 2012 season. The latest probation was given due to the ineligibility of star forward Maxim “Max,” Zakharov from Russia.
The latest probation states, “all wins must be vacated from the 2010-2011 season, and no post- season tournament play for this year’s squad.” The wins must be vacated because Eastern played an ineligible player in Zakharov during the 2010-2011 season. The probation was given in late September, but Eastern filed an appeal to allow the men’s basketball team to at least, allow the team to participate in post-season play.
The NJCAA rejected the appeal late last week. “That was a hard thing telling the players about the probation, they were devastated,” said Athletic Director and Associate Head Coach Dave Paur.
Brad King, associate vice chancellor that oversees athletics, said, “I was disappointed, I feel bad for the players. We have three players who were part of last year’s team, two new coaches and they are the ones who are taking the punishment.”
The NJCAA does not grant eligibility to any international players who have played professionally internationally. According to the NJCAA Basketball handbook in Article V Section 11.A.8.c.v, states “An individual loses amateur status and thus shall not be eligible for intercollegiate competition in a NJCAA certified sport if any of the following criteria applies: (v) Competes on any professional athletics team, or on a team where any member of the team is considered professional, even if no pay or remuneration for expenses was received.”
This legislation was passed by the membership in March 2010 and implemented on Aug. 1, 2010.While the NJCAA and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have similar rules in regards to player eligibility, they differ on this particular rule. In the NCAA, a player is only considered a professional if they are paid money when playing with a professional team.
Two summers ago Zakharov played two minutes for CSKA Moscow, a professional team in Russia. Those two minutes that were played nowhere near Price, Utah ,cost him his NJCAA eligibility, and Eastern’s 2010-2011 season. “It is not by any means Max’s fault, we were given false information while recruiting Max,” said Paur.
Zakharov was heavily recruited by USU Eastern, North Idaho College and College of Southern Idaho Last season, CSKA Moscow wrote and confirmed he only played for the junior team, and never reached professional status during his stint with the organization.
Zakharov, was granted NJCAA eligibility last season, averaged 12 points and named honorable mention by the conference.
At some point last season a number of teams within the Scenic West Athletic Conference garnered information that Zakharov played professionally with CSKA, this information was never reported to the NJCAA, nor to USU Eastern, until late this summer. Because nobody alerted the SWAC or USU Eastern on the information about the eligibility of Zakharov until now, it forced a stiffer NJCAA penalty against USU Eastern.
The Golden Eagles are not going to allow the latest setback ruin their season for them. “We are not going to give up, we can’t,” said Edelstein. “New changes will be made within both the men’s and women’s basketball programs in terms of recruiting. We have new additional resources that we are going to utilize to prevent this from happening again. We will have to get smarter in the new recruiting technology in order to protect the institution and the athletics department.” The season is not at its midway point, and the team has already suffered a death of Head Coach Brad Barton week’s before the season and now tack on these probation’s.
Due to the probation; Zakharov now has three years of eligibility left, but will not be allowed to use it at the junior college level. He has high interest from several division one schools, including University of Hawaii, but no decision has been made.
The men’s basketball team will continue their season without Zakharov, and several other players who have not received eligibility from the NJCAA due to grades, or for other undisclosed reasons.
The Golden Eagles hopes to reach the national tournament, or even win the SWAC Championship have been dashed, but the future is bright. Whoever is offered the permanent head-coaching job for the team next season will be walking into a different situation. But one thing for sure; the new coach will be starting with a clean slate, but inherit a mentally tough team that has suffered much.