In less than two weeks, Wes Miller’s third season as University of Cincinnati basketball coach will be underway, albeit with an undetermined roster.
In Miller’s eyes, the roster is the roster and he can’t imagine not playing without the young men he recruited. However, two players are two-time transfers that the NCAA has heavily scrutinized.
The governing organization has denied waiver requests for multiple two-time transfers across the country.
Twin transfer towers
UC’s candidates are senior big men Aziz Bandaogo and Jamille Reynolds, standing 7 feet and 6-11, respectively. On a team that already has 6-11 returning starter Viktor Lakhin and 6-9 returning starter Ody Oguama the presence of more length should instantly solidify them as a contender.
But, as Miller announced at Big 12 Media Days, the NCAA has denied their initial waiver on a staff level. Appeals have been filed and it’s believed the players have separate attorneys.
Ohio Attorney General involved
Attorney General Dave Yost wrote to NCAA President Charlie Baker on behalf of Bandaogo. The letter cites “adverse mental health impacts following seismic changes in his support network, social network and educational environment following the departing of his coach and mentor at Utah Valley University.”
Bandaogo is from Senegal and has no family in the United States. Mark Madsen was the Utah Valley coach who took the job at California at season’s end. The letter also states Bandaogo transferred to be closer to his girlfriend’s family in West Virginia who “function as a surrogate of his own.” Yost writes the denial is likely unlawful.
“Restricting Mr. Bandaogo from playing at the University of Cincinnati this fall raises serious concerns as an illegal restraint of trade. In essence, the NCAA has imposed a sweeping, unilateral, one-year non-compete restriction in violation of both state and federal law.
The NCAA’s exceptions and the erratic manner in which they have been applied make it difficult to accept that preventing Mr. Bandaogo from playing basketball this fall produces any procompetitive benefits.”
Tuesday at Fifth Third Arena, Miller continued his unwavering support for the players. As of Thursday, the Ohio Attorney General’s office had not been contacted about Jamille Reynolds.
“I think the NCAA has a real opportunity to get this right,” Miller said. “We’re going to do everything we can within laws and rules to help our guys get on the basketball court because they should be.”
Bandaogo played against UC last year for Utah Valley State in the NIT quarterfinals and Reynolds opposed the Bearcats twice in AAC play while a member of the Temple Owls. Bandaogo was at Akron before UVU and Reynolds began his career at UCF.
Miller contends Bandaogo and Reynolds were led to believe they’d be eligible if they met guidelines and standards which he says they met. Without going into specifics due to privacy, both transfers were based on a mental health exemption. The NCAA Division I Council in January stated that second-time transfers will have to provide proof of a physical injury, mental health condition, or other “exigent circumstances that clearly necessitate” an immediate departure, such as abuse or sexual assault.
Miller doesn’t want the NCAA to penalize young people for a confusing process.
“My biggest concern now is Aziz and Jamille’s mental well-being,” he said. “That’s not a line to help them get a waiver. This is very difficult. They don’t understand why they can’t play. Imagine you made a life decision under the belief that you were to play basketball because of what you read and experts you consulted with told you. Now, they can’t participate in our scrimmages.”
Both are permitted to practice but neither played in UC’s “secret scrimmage” vs. Maryland, nor will they in an upcoming match-up this weekend.
“I have faith that the NCAA is supposed to be about student-athletes and student-athlete well-being,” Miller said. “That’s what the organization is in place for. I have faith they’re going to look at this process and realize it needs to get cleaned up and more streamlined. Let’s hope they don’t penalize or use young people as examples.”
UC’s new 6-8 swingman sharpshooter from Butler by way of Lithuania made his first media appearance Tuesday and appeared at home despite being used to being on the move. He moved from Lithuania to Germany at 16 and then to Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse at 18.
He averaged 11.6 points for the Bulldogs last year and rang up Villanova for 28 last January. As a freshman, he scored 27 against Xavier in the Big East tournament. New teammate Viktor Lakhin mentioned at Big 12 Media Days how pleased he was that UC added a European.
“We’re getting along pretty well,” Lukoŝius said. “I’d say the relationship between Lithuanians and Russians hasn’t been great in history, but we’re doing alright so far. We can be a great duo on the court and complement each other well. From my visit, I had a good time with him so I felt there was already a person here that was going to be part of my circle.”
Dunking Dan Skillings
Now a sophomore, Skillings has added 15 pounds after turning heads late in the year with a 20-point performance over Temple in the AAC tournament. That included a dunk over new teammate Reynolds followed by a “too small” gesture that he’s since shared with the fellow Bearcat.
“We just welcomed them with open arms,” Skillings said. “We want the best for them. We just work every day and keep our mind on every day and not the future or the past.”
As for Bandaogo, not many of the current crew have been able to loft a lob the 7-footer couldn’t convert.
“He catches them anywhere, he’s surprised me a lot so far,” Skillings said. “He’s freakish. He’s really good at the game. It’s great to have him on our side. I did have a lay-up on him at Utah Valley. I bother him about that.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Ohio AG Dave Yost writes letter to NCAA for Cincinnati transfers