When center A.J. West joined the Nevada program last season, playing his first game against Iona on December 22, he was originally declared to be a junior eligibility-wise. With that being the case, and West’s late start to the season, it was expected that the Wolf Pack would have their 6-foot-9 center for just three semesters.
However the ruling regarding West’s status was changed Tuesday, with the NCAA granting the Monroe (New York) College product an extra season of eligibility. As a result West will be a junior this season as opposed to a senior, which would have been the case if not for the ruling.
“We are excited to have AJ for two more seasons,” Nevada head coach David Carter said in a release from the school. “I would like to thank our compliance department for their efforts in this process and express my appreciation for the NCAA and its appeals process for granting him the additional season to play for the Pack.”
West averaged 6.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per contest in the 21 games he played last season (19 starts), and he’ll be an important figure for the Wolf Pack in 2014-15 as well. Nevada, which finished the 2013-14 season with a 15-17 record (10-8 Mountain West), has to account for the loss of two senior starters in guard Deonte Burton and guard/forward Jerry Evans Jr. and they lost forward Cole Huff as well.
Huff, who averaged 12.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest last season, transferred to Creighton.
As a result of those departures senior guard Michael Lopez (11.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.1 apg) and West are the Wolf Pack’s top leading returning scorers, with sophomore Marqueze Coleman (6.0 ppg) expected to figure more prominently in the attack. West will be joined in the front court by two returnees (forward/center Ronnie Stevens Jr. and forward/center Lucas Stirvins) and three newcomers: Sheridan College transfer Kaileb Rodriguez (sophomore) and freshmen Elijah Foster and Robyn Missa.
Cole Huff, a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward, was a valuable contributor for Nevada this season, but recently made the decision to transfer from the school for his final two years of eligibility. The Wolf Pack has struggled with transfers in recent years — three players decided Nevada wasn’t the best fit following the 2013 season — and now that Huff has joined that list, there have been significant restrictions placed on where the forward can transfer.
According to Huff’s AAU coach, who also announced the news regarding Huff’s transfer, Huff is prohibited from transferring to any programs within the Mountain West, Pac-12, West Coast, or to any non-conference team on their 2014-15 schedule — a total of 45 teams.
It is unclear what sort of precedent coach David Carter, and the Nevada athletic department, is trying to set with these restrictions. Huff wasn’t a great rebounder, but he was proficient when he stepped on to the floor, combining a soft touch within the arc (50 percent) with an accurate shooting stroke from deep (40 percent). However, Huff wasn’t the team’s best player — that would be Deonte Burton — nor was he one of the best in the Mountain West (a member of the all-MWC honorable mention squad). Huff was an improving and developing forward with potential.
Huff is a native of California, but it seems like the forward is being told if he wants to play at a high-major level, he better leave the west coast: the only way he’ll play for a BCS-conference school is if that team is in a league east of or around the Mississippi River. It’ll be interesting whether Nevada continues to restrict Huff’s next destination; in recent years, there has been backlash when a coach (like Bo Ryan or Phil Martelli) tried to limit or prohibit a player from taking the floor for a rival, geographical or otherwise, school, but there hasn’t been anything of this magnitude. News is quickly spreading throughout social media, and there has been a bit of backlash against Nevada for severely limiting Huff’s options. It is understandable that Carter would be upset Huff decided to leave; a surprising team during MWC play, the squad’s depth takes a significant and considerable hit without Huff, but the program’s actions seem draconian.
Last season interior play was an issue for Nevada, as they lacked the pieces needed to supplement what Deonte Burton, Jerry Evans Jr. and Malik Story provided on the perimeter. As a result the Wolf Pack struggled in their Mountain West debut, winning just three conference games and finishing with an overall record of 12-19.
Story’s now a professional, and with the arrival of newcomers such as Monroe (N.Y.) College transfer AJ West the Wolf Pack were expected to provide greater resistance in the paint. Unfortunately for the 6-foot-9 forward he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA due to his attending prep school for a second year before enrolling at Monroe, and as a result Nevada’s still had issues inside. Currently the Wolf Pack rank eighth in the Mountain West in defensive rebounding percentage and tenth in blocked shots, two areas in which West was expected to help them when he joined the program.
However in addition to the bad injury news regarding guard Marqueze Coleman and junior forward Ronnie Stevens Jr., it was also announced on Wednesday that West has been cleared to play. West, who averaged 8.9 rebounds and led the country in blocked shots (5.1 bpg) at Monroe last season, will play on Saturday when Nevada hosts Iona.
Obviously it would be unfair to expect West to hit the ground running and immediately play as he did at Monroe, but with the loss of Stevens due to stress fractures in his legs and center Chris Brown still sidelined (health issues related to blood clots) Nevada clearly needed a personnel boost. Three of Nevada’s top four rebounders are perimeter players, with Evans grabbing a team-high 5.7 rebounds per game.
“He’s a great player. I think he’s going to have an impact on this team with his ability to block shots and to rebound,” Nevada head coach David Carter said according to Dan Hinxman of the Reno Gazette-Journal. We’re very excited to have him on the floor. Now, is he a savior? He’s not a savior. He’s just another good player that adds depth on a good team.”
Both Stevens and Coleman, who’s dealing with complications after being poked in the eye according to Hinxman’s report, are expected to miss anywhere from two to four weeks. Coleman’s averaging 8.0 points and 3.2 rebounds and Stevens is contributing 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest for the Wolf Pack, who are 4-7 on the season.
Nevada has two more non-conference games before they open Mountain West play at league newcomer San Jose State on New Year’s Day.