Published Wednesday, March 2, 2016 | 11:27 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, March 2, 2016 | 9:51 a.m.
Derrick Jones Jr. has been ruled ineligible because of an issue with his ACT score and it could mean that the freshman forward has played his last game for UNLV.
On Monday, the Rebels were notified that Jones’ ACT score had been cancelled and his status changed to a non-qualifier. Per NCAA rules, that makes him ineligible for any further competition, although for now it appears that the program will not have to forfeit any games.
Attorney Don Jackson of the Sports Group started working with Jones last summer. He said this all started when the NCAA asked the ACT to take a closer look at Jones’ results.
“This investigation did not start at the ACT. It started at the NCAA,” Jackson said. “… They have been threatening to cancel his test scores since the middle of last summer.”
The NCAA contends that they notified the ACT as a matter of protocol and they do not request for specific investigations.
"An inquiry to a testing agency from the NCAA merely provides notice that the staff has identified a statistical anomaly based on student-athlete data," NCAA Director of Media Relations Stacey Osburn said in a statement. "... It is important to note that the inquiry does not ask the testing agency to investigate a particular student's test score. The testing agency has sole authority and discretion to initiate a formal score review."
Jackson believes the NCAA is just deferring blame, but either way he finds the timing more than a little suspicious. UNLV (17-13, 8-9) wraps up the regular season Saturday at San Diego State and the Mountain West tournament begins in a week at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I do believe that the timing of this was calculated to keep him off the floor during the conference tournament,” Jackson said. “Because otherwise there’s no credible, rational reason for this decision to be made at this time.”
Part of the issue for Jones, a Chester, Pa., native who has appeared in all 30 UNLV games, is the site of his test. He took it in Baltimore, where on that day there were six to eight athletes whose tests would eventually be looked at more closely.
“He got caught in the middle of an investigation of an ACT testing site,” Jackson said.
In a September Sporting News article about a then-unnamed prospect, Jackson called the NCAA’s process in Jones’ case “racist as hell.” Today he explained that statement, pointing to the case of Kansas’ Cheick Diallo as an example that minority and international student-athletes are treated differently in eligibility issues.
“Things like initial eligibility and amateurism are applied to African-Americans or international student-athletes in a way that is selectively harsh and the standards are applied in a different way. That’s illegal,” Jackson said. “You can’t have rules that are applied in one way to African-Americans and internationals and an entirely different way to everyone else.”
All of the athletes investigated from that testing site, Jackson said, were either African-American or from another country.
“If there was an issue related to that testing site, why is that the only students subjected to these reviews were African-American athletes and an International student?” Jackson said.
The fact that none of the other athletes investigated from that site were ever eligible, like Jones was, could go towards explaining the timing of this announcement.
“Several of the schools who lost an athlete in investigation complained about the fact that Derrick was still on the floor,” Jackson said.
In the fall, the NCAA Eligibility Center cleared Jones, so at this time it doesn’t appear that UNLV will be penalized for using an ineligible player. Jones has been in good academic standing at UNLV, and the apparent red flag — other than many at the same site being investigated — was Jones’ lone ACT score outdoing his expected performance based on other information like high school GPA.
Generally scores would be flagged for a large spike, such as posting a 14 the first time and then a 29 on second try, but Jones only took the test once and Jackson used Jones’ prep tests as evidence to try to validate the score. Jackson said that the ACT offered Jones three options: retake the test, volunteer to cancel his own score or submit to binding arbitration.
“There was no issue of academic fraud. He did what he was supposed to do, and he’s not going to submit to any of those three alternatives,” Jackson said.
The next options for Jones — asking for a petition for reinstatement or an initial eligibility waiver — would probably take too long to get him on the court this season. However, Jackson said they must exhaust all administrative options, including asking UNLV if it would be willing to play Jones under an injunction, before trying to take the NCAA to court in order to clear the matter.
Between UNLV’s uncertain coaching situation and Jones’ other worldly athleticism, this could be enough to make him decide to declare for the NBA. His draft stock is all over the map, though it doesn’t hurt that Jones was playing his best basketball of late.
For the season, Jones is averaging 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21.5 minutes per game. Over the last three games he was playing his best basketball of his career, averaging 20.7 points, eight rebounds and 2.7 blocks while shooting 70.4 percent from the field and 85.7 percent at the free-throw line.