Tuesday, January 8, 2002
Akpan eligible ThursdayThe wait is finally over for freshman forward Nkeruwem "Tony" Akpan. But it comes with a price.
Hawaii's freshman forward
from Nigeria gets clearance
from the NCAA
By Cindy Luis
The NCAA yesterday declared the Nigerian national eligible to play after a 15-game penalty and ordered him to repay $4,000 for accepting financial aid in coming to the U.S. as a high school student.
Akpan will be eligible for Thursday's 7 p.m. Western Athletic Conference game against Louisiana Tech at the Stan Sheriff Center. Rainbow coach Riley Wallace said he hopes to get the 6-foot-8 freshman some playing time as his team tries to extend its seven-game winning streak.
"We got word today," Wallace said. "There's no fault on the university's part. It's what the NCAA has decided based on how Tony entered the country for high school."
Wallace began working the athletic Akpan into the rotation during yesterday's practice. Akpan will be a welcome addition for the Rainbows (13-2, 4-0), who saw junior forward Luc-Arthur Vebobe leave the team last week for a pro contract in his native France.
Akpan was caught up in a recruiting scandal at East Side High in Newark, N.J., as an underclassman. He and four other foreign players were eventually deemed ineligible after it was discovered that the five were living in an apartment without adult supervision.
There were also illegal recruiting questions regarding how the players arrived in the U.S. without their parents. Part of the delay over Akpan's eligibility was due to a problem with paperwork over who paid for his high school expenses.
Akpan transferred to Central Park Christian High in Alabama He averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds as a senior as the team went 26-2.
Also yesterday, Hawaii received nine points in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, tying UH with Arkansas (9-4, 1-0 SEC-West) for 38th. In the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, Hawaii was in a three-way tie for 43rd with Conference USA-National teams Memphis (11-4, 1-0) and South Florida (10-3, 0-0).
"Winning is everything," said Wallace, whose team moved up to 54th in the RPI. "We just have to keep winning.
"I don't think anyone knows what we're doing out here."
Attention should be paid this week when the Rainbows host two WAC title contenders in Louisiana Tech (8-4, 2-1) Thursday and SMU (8-5, 3-0) Saturday.
"We've got our work cut out for us," said Wallace, whose team has won seven straight. "I think we're feeling pretty good right now, but we have to keep it going."
Some national attention should also be gained after this week. Sports Illustrated is sending a writer for a feature story on Hawaii's foreign players. The Rainbows have eight on their 13-man roster.