Offering leniency in the same dramatic fashion it handed down the original penalty, the NCAA on Monday unexpectedly slashed JaRon Rush’s suspension from the UCLA basketball team by 20 games, clearing the way for him to play this week.
UCLA, shocked at the severity of the suspension that would have kept Rush out until the middle of next season, had been hoping the appeal would allow the sophomore forward to return closer to the start of the 2000-01 season. Instead, the NCAA Subcommittee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement, a five-member panel of Division I athletic department officials, decided after nearly two days of hearings and deliberations that Rush can play again Saturday afternoon at Stanford.
Reduction of the 29-game suspension--served after an earlier 15-game suspension, which the school did not appeal--to nine games means Rush will miss only one more game, Thursday at California.
Then, what last week began to look like a late Bruin push for an NCAA tournament bid gets another boost: the addition of a player whose energy has been missed, the leading rebounder from last season, and depth for the front court.
“I am very happy that the NCAA has reduced my suspension and I am relieved that this situation is finally over,” Rush said in a statement released through the school. “I am looking forward to being back on the basketball court with my teammates.
“I want to thank my teammates, my coaches and my family for their support over the last few months. They made dealing with the situation easier for me.
“I also want to thank the athletic department, particularly Mr. [Pete] Dalis [the athletic director] and Ms. [Betsy] Stephenson [the associate athletic director], for all their hard work on my behalf. They have been very supportive of me and I appreciate everything they have done on my behalf.”
Rush did not take questions after practice Monday because of an ongoing grand jury investigation in his hometown of Kansas City, Mo., involving his former AAU coach, Myron Piggie. It was Rush’s testimony in the case that prompted federal officials to alert UCLA of possible NCAA violations, after which the university suspended Rush pending its own probe.
That was on Dec. 10, after only three games in which he had played a prominent role--18.7 minutes, 11.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 56.5% shooting--as a backup forward. On Feb. 1, with the Bruins bracing for an NCAA ruling they feared might cost Rush the rest of the season, the governing body instead handed out a 44-game suspension that could have lasted through the first 17 games of 2000-01.
The Bruins immediately appealed. They did not contest the first 15 games, the penalty for Rush’s having accepted $200 from Los Angeles agent Jerome Stanley. Stanley has denied that claim but Rush admitted to it. UCLA instead took on the second portion, the 29 other games resulting from his relationship with Piggie.
The NCAA ruled that Rush had received $6,325 in improper benefits--whether money or athletic gear or travel for relatives--from Piggie as a member of his summer-league team while still in high school. The Bruins argued that the discipline was too harsh, especially because Rush could not have been expected to know whether the benefits were coming from Piggie or Tom Grant, a good friend who also supported the AAU team.
UCLA filed its appeal Jan. 13. The subcommittee held a 90-minute conference call last Friday, during which Rush spoke, addressing matters that had occurred before he came to Los Angeles, and the school was represented by Dalis, Stephenson and Donald Morrison, a faculty athletic representative. The five members deliberated that day, failed to reach a decision, then reconvened Monday.
Around noon, the Bruins learned the news. The appeals board had cut the penalty on the one issue being contested by 69%, a surprise.
“To some degree, it was,” Dalis said. “I believed JaRon’s case was being held to a very high standard by the NCAA.”
The $6,325 is a revised amount for the benefits received from Piggie, one released with the ruling from the appeals board, an increase of $200. Rush must pay $6,525--including the $200 the NCAA also ruled was accepted from Stanley--to a charity of UCLA’s choice. The payment schedule for that must be determined before Rush returns.
“I know the basketball team is real excited to have JaRon back,” Coach Steve Lavin said. “We’re excited for him because we know what kind of year it’s been for him with all this adversity, to have basketball taken away for the first time.”
Monday, it was returned.
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A Missing Ingredient
A look at UCLA’s record with and without JaRon Rush over the last two seasons:
With Rush: 19-9
Without Rush: 3-0
With Rush: 3-0
Without Rush: 12-11
With Rush: 22-9, .710
Without Rush: 15-11, .577