Tuesday, December 25, 2001
[ COLLEGE BASKETBALL ]
Ely's coming ... and possibly will play Thursday against the Hawaii basketball team.
Ely will be in Honolulu
By Cindy Luis
Fresno State's Melvin Ely, who has sat out five games of a six-game NCAA-mandated suspension, has been cleared by the NCAA to travel with the team to Honolulu. NCAA officials assured Fresno State that they will rule on an appeal by the school on Thursday, prior to tip-off of the Western Athletic Conference opener between the Bulldogs (8-4) and the Rainbows (9-2) at the Stan Sheriff Center.
The 6-foot-10 senior center, favored to win his second straight WAC Player of the Year award, was penalized because the NCAA ruled his friend and Fresno State roommate, Cody Castleman, received a hotel room paid for by a sports agency last spring. If the appeal is denied, Ely will be eligible to play Saturday at San Jose State.
"We're counting on him being here and that's how we're practicing," said Hawaii coach Riley Wallace. "We'll play him the same way we did last year, putting Haim (Shimonovich) on him."
Shimonovich, the Rainbow Classic MVP on Saturday, helped hold Ely to 12 points in last year's WAC Tournament semifinal won by Hawaii 76-67. Predrag Savovic scored a game-high 23 points as the Rainbows beat the Bulldogs for second time in three meetings last season.
"We've been waiting for Fresno all year," said Hawaii sophomore guard Carl English. "It should be a good challenge to see where we rate with the rest of the WAC teams."
Wallace said that playing Fresno State first instead of Nevada (Saturday's opponent) was the perfect scheduling scenario.
"If we'd had Nevada, there's always the chance of a letdown," said Wallace.
Under Wallace, the Rainbows have won four Rainbow Classic titles, including Saturday's 54-44 victory over Georgia. Hawaii is 0-3 in WAC openers following a Classic championship: Utah in 1990, at San Diego State in 1998 and at UTEP in 2000.
"I don't think it matters who we start the league off with," said junior guard Mark Campbell. "It's the conference season opener and we'll be excited.
"I haven't been a part of the Fresno-Hawaii rivalry. They're telling me that it will be a lot like Georgia, but the energy level will be even higher."
Fresno State is coming off Saturday's 91-52 win over Savannah State that snapped a three-game losing streak. All three losses came during Ely's suspension.
The first-semester suspension of Bulldogs senior Chris Sandy is up and the 6-2 point guard is a likely starter for the Hawaii game. Sandy, a junior college transfer, was recruited by Hawaii, but the Rainbow coaches said they backed off because Sandy had only one year of eligibility.
Notes: Campbell and his longtime girlfriend Ashley Smith, a former point guard for Vanderbilt, became engaged prior to Saturday's game with Georgia. Campbell waited until after the win to tell his teammates in the locker room. ... Savovic needs 27 points to become the ninth UH player to reach the 1,000-point mark.