On Friday morning, Villanova was rocked by a NCAA decision regarding Omari Spellman’s eligibility.
After months of reviewing Spellman’s eligibility, the NCAA deemed the freshman center ineligible for the 2016-17 season. A press conference that included Spellman, Athletic Director Mark Jackson, and head coach Jay Wright was held on Friday afternoon to shed some light on the decision.
Spellman, five-star recruit, was a consensus top-20 prospect coming out of high school and one of the best centers in the country. He committed to Villanova back in February 2015 after receiving offers from schools like Arizona, Indiana, UConn, and a handful of other schools. The 6-10, 275 pound center was counted on to fill a big void left by graduate Daniel Ochefu. It seems that he will have to wait another year to make his debut on the Main Line.
“We competed until the very, very end on this one,” Jackson said. “Although we’re disappointed and disagree with the decision, we are respectful of the decision. We are respectful of the process by the NCAA. Hopefully this is a day that we can move forward and not look back.”
Spellman will be allowed to sit on the bench at home games and continue to engage in practices with the team, but he will not be allowed to travel with the team for road games nor will he be able to compete in games. For now, Spellman will continue to enroll in his classes at Villanova as an academic redshirt. He will maintain four years of eligibility.
“We’ve been doing this for months,” Wright said. “Many, many months, and everybody worked closely together. As Mark said, all members of the NCAA when they came down with the final decision, the final appeal. We don’t agree with it, but we accept it, and we respect it.”
The NCAA reviewed Spellman because there were some questions surrounding when he started high school. Under NCAA rules for initial eligibility, a prospective student-athlete must complete their initial eligibility requirements no later than the high school graduation date of his or her class. Spellman graduated this past year, and Villanova felt he had the same academic qualifications and fulfilled the standards set by the NCAA—hence the appeal.
However, the NCAA looked into Spellman’s high school transcript and the various schools he attended growing up. The problem is centered on his transition from Middletown High School (N.Y.) to Hoosac School, a private school located in upstate New York. He started the ninth grade at Middletown but then transferred to Hoosac.
Upon arriving, he had to reclassify to eighth grade in order to be taken in to the school. While it took him four years to complete high school, in the eyes of the NCAA, that reclassification year was counted—creating a fifth year that warranted a penalty by the rules. His first year at Middletown started his eligibility clock, and according to the rules, he should have graduated in 2015, not 2016. So while he fulfills the academic aspect, the NCAA declared he didn’t finish high school in four years due to the reclassification year that set him back.
“He just had a chance to go to a private school and wasn’t thinking about being a recruited student-athlete.” Wright said, in regards to the appeal. “That was our point and the private school academically told him you have to go to eight grade to go to the school so he just did what they told him to do at the time.”
The decision was a blow to the basketball team, its fans, but especially for the one who had to take the brunt of the hit, Spellman himself.
“Life goes on; I just have to keep working everyday,” he said. “I mean not being able to play in games, but I’m allowed to practice, I’m allowed to workout. I’m allowed to improve myself as a person so that’s what I am going to try and do.”
Without Spellman, Darryl Reynolds will be the main center on Villanova’s roster. Apart from Reynolds, the Wildcats now have to rely on other players such as Hershey (Pa.) native Dylan Painter, redshirt freshman Tim Delaney, and Fordham transfer Eric Paschall.
The Wildcats journey for their title defense got tougher without the jewel of their 2016 recruiting class. They will have to find a way to make do and in the mean time, the world is kept waiting for the moment Spellman steps onto the court.