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NCAA denies waiver for Stepheson to play

Klein is a Times staff writer.

Alex Stepheson, who transferred to USC from North Carolina this fall hoping the NCAA would allow him to have immediately eligibility, had his appeal denied Wednesday and will not be eligible until 2009-10.

Stepheson, a 6-foot-9 junior, was a reserve for North Carolina the last two seasons. He has said he transferred to be closer to his family, which was dealing with health issues.

Stepheson, who attended North Hollywood Harvard Westlake High, has been practicing with the Trojans but sat out the first two games. He did not travel Tuesday to Puerto Rico, where the Trojans play Seton Hall tonight in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-off tournament.

Neither Stepheson nor his family could be reached for comment.

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“Alex would have really helped our team this season and would have had a big impact in the Pac-10, but we will have to move beyond this now,” Coach Tim Floyd said in a statement released by USC. “He practiced hard and showed us the kind of player he is. I’m confident he’ll work even harder now and prepare himself for next season.”

NCAA staff examined “the spirit of the rule and case precedent” and found that the circumstances of Stepheson’s transfer year-in-residence wai- ver request “do not warrant relief,” NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn wrote in an e-mail to the Times.

Osburn also cited “a lack of contemporaneous medical documentation to indicate that the family members needed extra assistance.

“NCAA guidelines state that a member institution must provide documentation regarding any injury or illness of a student-athlete or family member and how those are directly related to the student-athlete’s transfer waiver request.”

Osburn said USC can appeal the decision to the NCAA Subcommittee of Legislative Relief.

Junior forward Taj Gibson did not travel to Puerto Rico until Wednesday night because he needed to complete course work. He had been hoping to travel with Stepheson.

“That’s tough to hear right now -- I was looking forward to playing with him,” Gibson said as he left campus.

Busy schedule

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In addition to Seton Hall, the Trojans probably will play No. 13 Memphis on Friday and either Virginia Tech, Xavier or Missouri on Sunday.

Before they left for Puerto Rico, players said they were looking forward to a business trip with three games in four days.

“You’re just going and going and going,” senior center Keith Wilkinson said of the schedule. “It’s not like you’re going to be by the pool sipping on some drinks and relaxing.”

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gary.klein@latimes.com


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