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UNLV basketball sorting out eligibility for incoming transfers

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Steve Marcus

T.J. Otzelberger, UNLV’s new men’s basketball head coach responds to a question during a news conference at the Thomas & Mack Center Thursday, March 28, 2019.

The UNLV basketball program added six transfers in the first offseason under coach T.J. Otzelberger, and now the Rebels are attempting to sort out which of them will be eligible to play this year — and for how long.

It’s a slow, deliberate process that requires the UNLV compliance office to work with the NCAA, and it will have a big impact on what the team looks like this season. In the already-decided category, Tulane transfer Moses Wood and South Dakota State transfer David Jenkins will sit out a redshirt year, and grad transfer Elijah Mitrou-Long has the go-ahead to suit up. But for Vitaliy Shibel, Jonah Antonio and Donnie Tillman, it’s a little more complicated.

Antonio committed to UNLV expecting to have two more years of eligibility (including this season), but it took some finagling to get there.

Antonio previously took a redshirt year at Mount St. Mary’s, then played one season there before transferring to a junior college for the 2018-19 campaign. Under normal circumstances, he would have had two years of eligibility remaining, but there was a sticking point due to an extra half-season of prep school he played in his native Australia. That half-season started his NCAA eligibility clock early, and it technically rendered him a senior for 2019-20.

UNLV filed a waiver with the NCAA, asking to remove that half-season from his eligibility clock. The NCAA agreed, and last week they informed UNLV that Antonio’s two remaining seasons of eligibility had been restored.

Shibel, a forward who came from Arizona State, also committed to UNLV expecting to have two more seasons of eligibility remaining. But now it looks like he’ll be a senior this season, playing out his final year of college ball.

The NCAA only allows high-school students to take one post-grad year before the clock on their collegiate eligibility begins ticking. Shibel took a gap year after graduating high school in his native Ukraine, then played a full additional year at a prep school after that; for NCAA purposes, that prep-school year counted as his first year of college eligibility.

Shibel then redshirted as a freshman at ASU, then played the past two seasons. That makes the 2019-20 season his fifth and final year.

Otzelberger said UNLV had planned to file a waiver to try and regain an additional year of eligibility for Shibel, but the compliance office discovered that Arizona State had already petitioned the NCAA on his behalf after the redshirt freshman year. That waiver was denied.

With no new information to support Shibel’s case, Otzelberger said he didn’t see an avenue for pursuing the matter further.

“At the end of the day, that’s it,” Otzelberger said. “We looked at the waiver from Arizona State, and they did a great job of making the case. We had nothing to add to it. We’d just be asking the NCAA to say no to this same waiver that they said no to a couple years ago.”

Otzelberger said he recruited both Antonio and Shibel knowing that it was possible they could only have one year apiece remaining.

“We’d have taken both even if it was just for one year,” Otzelberger said. “We were aware it could only be one year and thought both could help our team. If anything, I think our compliance office did a terrific job of identifying these situations and how to go about them.”

Tillman’s situation is still up in the air. The swingman transferred to the Rebels after playing his first two seasons at Utah, and under normal circumstances he would have to sit out the 2019-20 season as a redshirt before playing his final two years. But UNLV is planning to file a waiver on his behalf in the hopes of getting him eligible for the upcoming campaign.

Otzelberger said UNLV is in the process of gathering information and putting together the file for Tillman’s waiver petition. Once that happens, the decision will be in the NCAA’s hands.

“It’s a time-consuming process,” Otzelberger said. “Once we get it submitted we’ll have a better idea.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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