Better late than never.
Just hours before UNLV plays its final exhibition game of the season Tuesday night against Adams State – and after a strong twitter ‘FreeKO’ assault that included everyone from UNLV fans to national college basketball media to even comedian Jimmy Kimmel wondering what the heck was taking so long — the school finally received word Monday afternoon from the NCAA that senior guard Kevin Olekaibe’s hardship transfer waiver had been granted.
The 6-foot-2 senior from Cimarron-Memorial High School, who led Fresno State in scoring two years ago with a 17.8 average, decided to walk on at UNLV and play his senior year so he could be closer to his father Benson, who is in hospice after suffering a pair of strokes which have left him paralyzed and unable to speak. The NCAA normally requires players transferring from one Division I school to another to sit out a season barring a family or medical hardship.
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Although UNLV submitted Olekaibe’s paperwork back in September and Fresno State signed off on the transfer, the NCAA didn’t get around to approving the move until Monday, forcing Olekaibe to sit out the Runnin’ Rebels’ exhibition opener against Dixie State.
“I’m feeling great,” Olekaibe said. “I came into this practice knowing that I’d get a decision soon. I just wanted to stay focused and now worry about it. Coach (Dave Rice) brought us all in a huddle and announced it. I felt like a big weight just fell off my shoulders.”
A Mountain West Conference committee of faculty representatives still must now approve the waiver submitted by UNLV that will grant relief from the penalties associated with its intra-conference transfer rule but that is considered a formality, especially since Fresno State backed the transfer.
With guard Bryce Dejean-Jones out indefinitely with a strained hamstring suffered in Friday’s exhibition loss, Olekaibe practiced with the first team on Monday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center and will start Tuesday night if the MWC ruling arrives in time.
“We’re very pleased for Kevin and his family” Rice, who learned of the NCAA ruling 25 minutes into Monday afternoon’s practice, said. “We all know the adversity that he and his family have gone through.”
Olekaibe said he was grateful for the support he had received from Rebel fans, including Las Vegas native and late night TV host Kimmel, who questioned the NCAA’s delay with a strong Twitter campaign.
“Maybe it helped,” Olekaibe said of Kimmel’s tweet. “I was thankful for the support from all the UNLV fans also. They stuck with me from day one when I arrived on campus and I appreciate that.”
REBEL NOTES: Rice said Dejean-Jones’ strained hamstring may not be as serious as first thought but he will be sidelined at least for the season opener on Friday night against Portland State. … Starting forward Khem Birch is doubtful for Tuesday night’s 7 p.m. exhibition game against Adams State with turf toe and a sprained ankle. Rice said the reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year should be ready for Portland State. … Highly touted freshman guard Kendall Smith, who missed the exhibition loss to Dixie State with a sprained ankle, practiced Monday and will play against Adams State.