OTD: ACC Elite to Benefit from 5/8 Ruling

In today's edition of "Off the Dribble," Chip Bremer discusses the potential effects of the 5/8 ruling on college basketball recruiting and how Andy Katz may have overlooked one of the more important transfers for the 2004-2005 season.

Several weeks ago, you could probably hear various college basketball fans and analysts claim that the sky is falling. But it wasn't because of the ridiculous amount of underclassmen and high school players jumping into the NBA draft, as has been the norm over the past few years. No, it was because the NCAA did something right for a change by eliminating the much-maligned 5/8 scholarship rule that limited only men's basketball teams to five scholarships in a given recruiting class and no more than eight over two years.

The rule was designed to keep coaches from running off certain players, who eventually either transferred to another school or left early for the NBA. Most analysts agree that the rule failed to do just that since the rate of transfers and early defections have continued to climb since the rule was put into place in 2001. In fact, what the rule actually did was deprive several deserving athletes a chance to attend their college of choice on a basketball scholarship. Reggie Minton of the National Association of Basketball Coaches stated at least 200 scholarships from 160 Division I programs went unused last season. That's just criminal.

But now, the NCAA, which has been criticized many times for its lack of sensibility and logic in changing certain rules and regulations over the years, has done the unthinkable by abandoning the 5/8 rule in favor of requirements more closely tied with academic performance. This is by far the NCAA's most sensible ruling in decades. It's a complete turnaround from the association's revenue-mongering direction to one that seeks to put more emphasis on the "student" in student-athlete – and they should be saluted for this decision.

But how does this affect the ACC? Well, coaches like NC State's Herb Sendek and Virginia's Pete Gillen no longer have to worry about losing that one player who, after a year or two of college, always seems to be a poor fit for the program. But the most significant (and more immediate) impact will be apparent with the ACC's elite programs – most notably, Duke and North Carolina.

Yes, two of the most "hated" college teams in the ACC, and in America (according to one survey), are the ones most likely to benefit this upcoming recruiting year from the elimination of the 5/8 rule. Had the NCAA not cast the rule aside, both teams would be facing a scholarship crunch and a severe lack of roster depth. Now, the "rich" will only get richer.

If Carolina were to lose only Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel and Melvin Scott to graduation, head coach Roy Williams would only have to worry about filling three scholarships. But with rising juniors Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May looking harder at the NBA, and the prospect of incoming freshman Marvin Williams being a "one-and-done" player, the Tar Heels could have as many as seven open scholarships to fill at the end of the 2004-05 season. That number could increase to eight with the possibility of center Damion Grant either transferring or giving up his scholarship because of his knee problems.

If that were to happen with the 5/8 rule in place, Roy Williams would have been looking at a thin bench in 2005-06, with only 10 total scholarship players (with five freshmen, including current guard commitments Marcus Ginyard and Bobby Frasor) on the roster – well short of the 13 allowable under NCAA regulations. Now, Roy and his staff can go out and offer scholarships and immediate playing time to almost twice as many top-rated high school seniors as he would have before. This will no doubt translate into a stellar recruiting haul for the Heels next year.

As for Duke, Mike Krzyzewski rarely goes into a season with a full allotment of scholarship athletes on the roster, but the end of the 5/8 rule limitations will allow him more flexibility on the recruiting trail than ever before. With the likelihood of Luol Deng and Shaun Livingston staying in this year's NBA draft, the Blue Devils will only have eight players on scholarship next season. With Daniel Ewing graduating and the possibility of Shelden Williams (and maybe a couple of other players) leaving early for the pros, Coach K will have anywhere from five to seven scholarships to offer.

Since 6-2 point guard Greg Paulus and 6-9 power forward Josh McRoberts are already in the fold for the next recruiting year, the 5/8 rule would've still given K a chance to fill his three remaining open scholarships. But if Williams or even Shavlik Randolph, who once held aspirations of turning pro out of high school, decide to take the premature route to the NBA, Duke still has a chance to recruit a full roster for the following year now that the 5/8 has been 86-ed.

Of course, this year's NCAA runner-up Georgia Tech also will benefit from the rule since head coach Paul Hewitt will have at least six open scholarships to fill after this season (seven, if point guard Jarrett Jack leaves early). But expect the Heels and the Devils to reap the most benefit since they continually appear on the wish lists of most blue-chip prospects.

So while the end of the 5/8 rule can be seen as a glorious event in the history of college basketball, many ABCD fans (Anybody But Carolina or Duke) might see it as another win for the teams they love to hate. Can you already feel the love?

* * *

Andy Katz may be one of the best college basketball writers anywhere, but even he can overlook some important details once in a while. And NC State fans will agree this is a big one.

Last month, the ESPN columnist wrote an article, entitled "Sparks' new Kentucky home," discussing nine "significant" Division I transfers next season. But while Katz sang the praises of players like Patrick Sparks (who may inherit the starting point guard position at Kentucky after coming in from Western Kentucky) and Dennis Latimore (who will boost Notre Dame's scoring output after transferring from Arizona a year ago), he completely skipped a name that ACC fans will need to know over the next year: NC State's Tony Bethel.

Transfers often have just as much of an effect (if not more) on their new teams as incoming blue-chip freshmen; they just never get all the hype because they end up sitting out an entire year because of eligibility rules. But transfers have the advantage of taking part in practice and learning their team's system during their redshirt year, and thus can have a major impact in their first season of action at their new home. No one can forget how former Baylor teammates Lawrence Roberts and John Lucas III helped Mississippi State and Oklahoma State, respectively, charge deep into the NCAA Tournament this past season. And ACC fans are well aware of how important Georgia Tech's Will Bynum (from Arizona), Virginia's Todd Billet (from Rutgers) and Duke's Dahntay Jones (also from Rutgers) were to their teams over the past few years.

While targeting eligible transfers who could have a similar impact this season, Katz recognized not only Sparks and Latimore, but also UConn's Ed Nelson (formerly of Georgia Tech), Tennessee's Andre Patterson (formerly of UCLA), Iowa's Adam Haluska (formerly of Iowa State), Xavier's Brian Thornton (formerly of Vanderbilt), Wisconsin's Sharif Chambliss (formerly of Penn State), and Murray State's Trey Pearson (of Mississippi) and Keith Jenifer (of Virginia). Yes, that is the same Keith Jenifer that had trouble running a less-than-stellar Virginia squad a couple of years ago.

There's no doubting the immediate help these transfers will bring this coming year, but Katz's exclusion of Bethel from this list is completely unforgivable. Bethel averaged 10.5 points and 3.1 assists per game as a two-year starter for Georgetown from 2000-2002, but what is most important about this young man is that he gives the Wolfpack what they have been sorely lacking since the departure of Justin Gainey four years ago: a steady and dependable point guard.

Bethel is not as flashy or as dominant as some of the ACC's other lead guards, like Raymond Felton, Jarrett Jack or Chris Paul, but he can run plays, distribute the ball and play on-the-ball defense just as well, if not better, than anyone on the NC State roster. He also has the ability to hit the open jumper and penetrate defenses, which is something most Wolfpack guards have had difficulty with over the past few years. And he has a knack for not turning the ball over – an admirable trait that will endear him immediately to the Wolfpack faithful.

Most importantly, Bethel's presence on the floor will allow ACC Player of the Year Julius Hodge more freedom to operate in Herb Sendek's free-flowing offensive system. If State is going to reach the Sweet 16 this year, Hodge needs to have more flexibility on the offensive end. Such flexibility would make the Wolfpack one of the most dangerous teams in the nation, and would go a long way towards developing Hodge's game for the NBA.

Sure, Bethel may not wind up on the All-ACC squad during his career at NC State, but I dare anyone to find a transfer that will have as much of an impact as he will over the coming year. Sorry, Andy – you missed the boat on this one.

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