Posted: 4:53 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013
By Rodger Sherman
Rakeem Buckles, a power forward transferring to Minnesota after stints at Louisville and FIU, won't be able to play for Minnesota this season, because the NCAA won't let him. The Golden Gophers will appeal, but this is the NCAA, and they are not fans of reason.
This is bad news for Minnesota, that's hard-pressed to find productive members of their frontcourt in their first year under Richard Pitino. But it's worse news for Buckles, who has shown talent and has done everything right in his career, and now is being told his career might be over unless he's willing to become a walk-on.
Let me explain the sad tale of Rakeem Buckles
Buckles' story is a prime example, and not a fun one. The No. 11 power forward in the class of 2009 per Rivals, the Buckles was a highly sought-after recruit, and chose to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville. A 6'7, 215-pound power forward, he showed athleticism from the four-spot not a lot of players showed. The four-star recruit played in all but one of Louisville's games, scoring 20 points in an NCAA tournament matchup vs. Cal. But his sophomore year, he started to have issues. He had 17-points and 11 rebounds in a game against a Butler team coming off a NCAA Championship game appearance in the season opener, he began to have injury issues.
A broken finger cost him 13 games. A concussion a few more. And then, he tore his right ACL, ending his year. He'd work hard and spent nine months rehabbing but after finally hitting game shape his junior year, he'd tear his left ACL, an injury that was immediately diagnosed as ending not only that season, but also the next one. As Pitino said at the time, everybody was crushed by the news.
Rick Pitino did something he also did with oft-injured forward Jared Swopshire, who played as a graduate transfer at Northwestern this past year. Knowing Louisville had tons of incoming talent, he realized if Buckles came back in 2013-14, he'd be overshadowed by other, younger players -- who had actually played in the last two years. So he set Buckles up to transfer to FIU, a perfect situation: it was in Buckles' hometown of Miami, and the coach was his son, Richard Pitino. Buckles diligently sat out last season while his old team won the national title, preparing to get physically ready and eligible for this upcoming year.
But two things happened: in March, Pitino left to go to Minnesota, and in June, FIU handed down a postseason ban due to things that happened while Isiah Thomas was coach. Seeing his coach leave and knowing there's an NCAA loophole allowing players to transfer without sitting out a year if their career is set to expire, Buckles followed Pitino to Minnesota.
But the NCAA says no. They'd already allowed his teammate, Malik Smith, to transfer with no loss of eligibility, but because of his two-transfer situation, they wouldn't approve Buckles' waiver. Because NCAA players are only given five years from their first season in uniform, Buckles would either need a waiver to play in 2014-2015, six years after his first season at Louisville, or would need to walk-on at FIU, where the program has already given away his scholarship.
This should be a win-win-win. A player that's worked hard to get healthy and has always gotten the short end of the stick should be allowed to see the court for one last year. Minnesota should get a big man who has proven to be helpful when healthy, and considering the graduation of Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams, and Andre Ingram, they need one. And the NCAA should help out a student-athlete, which is supposedly their mission.
Instead, the NCAA wants to make him play at a school he doesn't want to, a school he never paid for, and one that would require him to pay his own tuition. He wanted to play for the son of his coach, not for a school, and he proved his dedication to the sport by continuing to fight back even when his knees, hands, and brain told him he shouldn't.
But because he signed some papers, he can't.
Good job as always, guys.