If You Don’t Live in the USA and Want to Apply for a College Athletic Scholarship, Then You Must Read This Article

By Jeff Miller of the Dallas Morning News

“In some areas, sometimes they flatly just are not truthful,” said Saum of the NCAA. “They know if they signed a contract or not. They know if they get paid. They know whether the team’s a pro team.”

Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks’ president of basketball operations, is among the NBA’s top authorities on international basketball, having served as an assistant coach for the Lithuanian men’s basketball team during the last three Olympic Games. He said many international players wouldn’t be motivated financially to lie their way into intercollegiate sport.

“Some of these young men are electing to give up all the money in the world [playing in Europe] to come over and play college basketball, be part of Americana, if you will,” Nelson said. “And we say, ‘Well, you can’t because you took $500.’ That’s where we’re missing the boat.”

South Carolina women’s basketball coach Susan Walvius said she often has to deal strictly with international players and tries to avoid their teams or federations.

“They don’t want their coaches to know, so we don’t normally contact their federations. We ask the kids the questions, and we rely on them to tell the truth, which is a little disconcerting.”

“She couldn’t answer all the questions,” she said. “Ideally, I’d like to give the NCAA the athlete’s name and have them tell me what the situation is: Is she a pro?”

Walvius said one of her foreign recruits agreed to sit out a full season, in case she might have been deemed a professional.

Too many variables

An international athlete’s amateur status can depend on whether the school is in the NCAA, NAIA, or NJCAA. And the reality is that it sometimes depends on who is examining the paperwork.

In 2000, Nihan Anaz left Turkey to sign with South Carolina’s women’s basketball team. She had played from 1997–1999 in a league that the NCAA classifies as professional.

“Her eligibility was not a problem because she didn’t get paid,” South Carolina’s Walvius said.

Anaz played a full schedule for South Carolina in 2000–2001, left the school for personal reasons, and played a full schedule as a sophomore in 2001-2002 for two years at Weatherford College in Parker County. She then signed with California.

Cal’s compliance director, Fody Mellis, looked into Anaz’s background and told the NCAA that she had played on a team supported by a professional organization.

“She had to sit out some games,” Mellis said. “She should have done that at South Carolina, and they never held her out.”

Jeff Varem of Nigeria played two years of junior college basketball at Vincennes College in Indiana before transferring to Washington State this year. But Varem had to make his belated debut in NCAA Division I on Monday night after having to sit out eight games. The college anticipated that Varem would have to sit out because one of his peers in Nigeria, Lucky Williams, was required to sit out 14 games a year ago when he signed with Alabama.

“Jeff was able to play right away at the junior college,” said Jim Serra, Washington State’s compliance director. “That leads me to believe there isn’t the same interest in what . . . [international athletes] did prior to coming to America.”

Colorado recently found itself in the strange position of trying to prove that a former Louisiana Tech women’s basketball player didn’t receive more than expense money from a team in Denmark’s Elite Division. That’s because one of the Buffaloes’ freshman signees, Anna Nedovic, had played for the same team.

Only hours before its opener, Colorado successfully proved that former Lady Techster Ayana Walker received only routine expenses from the Danish team BF Copenhagen. Nedovic was cleared to play.

The NAIA and NJCAA are considering legislation that would place a maximum age on athletes, which would have its greatest effect on international players. For instance, the top women’s free throw shooter this season in NJCAA Division I is New Mexico Junior College’s Eva Vodrazkova, a 26-year-old sophomore.

Michael Landers, women’s basketball coach at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, is in favor of such a move.

“As much as you’d like to give opportunity to some people to improve their lives, at some point, you take away opportunities from other kids,” said Landers, whose second ranked Lady Cardinals include three players from Brazil.

The NAIA proposal would require all athletes to document playing experience after high school or, in the case of foreign athletes, after age 19.

“Some NAIA institutions felt that they didn’t have a level playing field in the postseason when playing institutions with athletes who may be of an older age, who may have been playing for a national team,” said Matt Fry, the NAIA’s director of legislation services.

Texas Tech men’s basketball coach Bob Knight, who often cuts against the grain when the topic involves NCAA governance, has a suggestion for dealing with the amateur status of international athletes.

“Logic should be applied,” he said. “If a kid has passed his nineteenth birthday—or twentieth, whatever—any athlete playing anywhere through the age of eighteen can be a kid that you can recruit. And four interns don’t have to sit and study some country they have no idea where the hell it is to begin with . . . and then determine that this kid is or is not pro. We would have one simple rule to take care of it. That seems to me to be a really good way to get it done easily, efficiently, and cheaply. So those are three great reasons for the NCAA not doing it.”

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