Big Day for Georgia Hoops

DESTIN, Fla. -- Damon Evans felt good going into Georgia's NCAA basketball appeal in March and even better coming out of that meeting. But neither of those compared to how happy he was Friday, when the NCAA Appeals Committee went beyond even what the school had asked for and restored all three scholarships it took away in August of 2004.

"I felt like we should be getting some relief," he said after receiving word Friday morning here at the Sandestin Hilton, where he is staying for the SEC's annual spring meetings. "I'm am very, very pleased with what we received."

The Bulldogs, who were punished for violations committed during Jim Harrick's tenure, originally were told to forfeit one scholarship in the 2005-'06, 2006-'07 and 2007-'08 seasons. They asked to have one of those scholarships reinstated, but the NCAA gave all three back.

"This is exciting news for our basketball program as we work to recover from the events of 2003," basketball coach Dennis Felton said in a statement released by the school. "Once and for all, we can put this episode behind us and move forward in the building of our great program at Georgia."

"I talked to (basketball coach Dennis Felton) this morning and to say he is happy about the ruling would be an understatement," said Athens attorney Ed Tolley, who led Georgia's investigation and appeal. "I think it vindicates and certifies the actions that were taken in this case by the university."

The Appeals Committee indicated in a news release that it was most swayed by the fact that Georgia released four players -- Jordan Howell, Mohamed Abukar, Cassiono Matheus and Marcus Jackson -- from their signed letters of intent after it began investigating possible violations in the spring of 2003.

"As a result, during the 2003-'04 academic year, Georgia had only seven men's basketball student-athletes on scholarship," the NCAA report stated. "Thus, the university's decision in spring 2003 to release the prospects constituted a powerful self-imposed penalty that seriously affected its men's basketball program."

Georgia emphasized in its appeals hearing that letting those four players leave was the equivalent of giving up four scholarships because it was too late for those players to be replaced.

The NCAA "looked and said, ‘Hey, they've already reduced scholarships,'" Evans said. "It would have been a double whammy for us. Obviously, they felt like we did the right thing."

Georgia officials immediately felt their appeals hearing in Chicago in March went well, several participants said.

"When we left Chicago, we were all quietly optimistic," Tolley said. "Nobody said anything, but we were hopeful."

Having a full 13 scholarships for the next three seasons should help the Bulldogs' rebuilding process greatly, Evans said. The Bulldogs finished 8-20 last season.

"As we all know, one person in a sport where you're only playing five and only have 13 scholarships is huge," Evans said. "That's going to help (Felton) a lot, especially where we've been."

Georgia also asked for a reduction of its four years of probation to three, but that appeal was rejected.

"I wish the probationary period was different and yet I think there's a message there for all of us at Georgia that we have to be extra diligent about compliance during this probationary period," school president Michael Adams said. "Overall, I'm very pleased with the result."

Former Georgia assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr., who was at the center of Georgia's violations, also received some good news from the NCAA on Friday. The Harricks had appealed all the rulings against them, and the NCAA vacated the extra-benefit violation against Harrick Jr. that pertained to the basketball coaching class he taught.

 The NCAA appeals committee struck down the extra benefit ruling because it didn't find evidence that students in Harrick Jr.'s class were treated any differently than student-athletes. However, the appeals committee did not reduce the seven-year show cause order against Harrick Jr., which states that an NCAA school that wants to hire him in the next seven years must first ask the NCAA.

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