Wednesday, August 1, 2001


UH basketball star
could lose eligibility

Playing games with pros
jeopardizes Savovic's final season

By Dave Reardon

University of Hawaii basketball standout Predrag Savovic could lose his senior season of eligibility, according to a source close to the NCAA.

Savovic, an all-Western Athletic Conference guard from Yugoslavia, and at least three other Rainbows are among foreigners from 52 men's college basketball teams under scrutiny by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Among the criteria that can affect eligibility is whether a player competed with or against current or former professionals, regardless of whether the player in question received payment.

With precedent set last year with UH center Haim Shimonovich and others, the NCAA has penalized one game of eligibility for each game played among professionals.

From its own research, UH determined that Savovic played eight to 10 games with professional teammates or opponents in Yugoslavia before he played college basketball in the United States.

But research done by the NCAA indicates that Savovic has played enough games among professionals to lose his entire senior season, the source said.

Riley Wallace, Hawaii's head coach, said he was told the NCAA might back off on its targeting of the eligibility of foreign basketball players because of a fear of litigation.

Last month, the organization sent letters to the schools' athletic departments, requesting information about the athletes' previous playing experience. That information is due this week, although Wallace said UH will probably get an extension because it has so many players in the report.

The NCAA says 340 international athletes play men's college basketball. UH has nine such players.

"We're trying to do what's right," said UH Athletic Director Hugh Yoshida. "Getting information from the other side of two oceans can be difficult."

Wallace said the only information UH could find was about a Yugoslavian national tournament that Savovic told the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News he had played in. The tournament includes professional players, but Savovic said he was not paid.

"We haven't been able to pull up anything more," Wallace said. "I don't know what they (the NCAA) have. No direct source from the NCAA has told us what they might do."

Wallace is evaluating high school talent and attending meetings of the National Association of Basketball Coaches in Las Vegas with 150 other Division I head coaches.

He said briefings from NABC officials and attorneys indicated that the NCAA might pull back to avoid legal action. NABC Associate Director Reggie Minton strongly opposes the NCAA actions, and said last month that they could lead to court action.

Wallace and others have railed against penalizing foreign players for competing among professionals, since American players commonly do so in NCAA-sanctioned games and leagues.

"Nobody knows exactly what's going to happen, but they say the NCAA has agreed to sit down and discuss the issue further," Wallace said.

Shimonovich was suspended 22 games by the NCAA last season when UH reported he had played 22 games in a league with professionals in his native Israel.

The NCAA has requested information on UH forwards Mindaugas Burneika of Lithuania and Bosko Radovic of Yugoslavia. Wallace indicated last month that information compiled on Burneika does not jeopardize his eligibility. He said yesterday that more information is needed on Radovic.

Savovic, who played his freshman season at Alabama-Birmingham before transferring to Hawaii, led the Rainbows with 17.6 points a game last season. He also made the WAC and District VIII academic first teams.

Burneika, a valuable player off the bench, averaged 7.4 as a junior. Radovic averaged 5.8 before an injury ended his freshman season after five games.

Also, UH research on the background of incoming junior college transfer Luc-Arthur Vebobe, who is originally from France, could cause the forward to lose some games if the NCAA maintains its current stance.

"It looked like he had played 11 games (among professionals), but he actually only played six," Wallace said.

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