BOISE — Leon Rice is trying to find the positives, like knowing Emmanuel Akot will be a lot better two years from now as a fifth-year senior.
Knowing he won’t suit up for Boise State this year is still hard to take.
Akot’s appeal for immediate eligibility following a transfer from Arizona was denied by the NCAA on Thursday, meaning he’ll have to sit the entire 2019-20 college basketball season. He will have two years of eligibility left beginning next fall.
“I’m disappointed because I wanted what he wanted and he wanted to be out there with his teammates,” Rice said. “He’s really grown close with these guys and he wanted to help them this year and help them right now.”
Akot and the Broncos asked for a waiver granting him immediate eligibility due to the circumstances at Arizona, where an FBI investigation into the college basketball bribery scandal led to one assistant coach spending time in a federal prison.
Boise State’s initial request was denied a few weeks ago, and an appeal was filed quickly a few days later. A different committee heard the appeal and agreed Thursday that Akot shouldn’t be allowed to play this season.
In a statement, Boise State athletic director Curt Apsey said, “The NCAA did not find the circumstances surrounding Emmanuel’s transfer unique and the committee upheld that decision on appeal. Coach Rice and I are disappointed with the decision and outcome of the appeal process.
“While we do not agree with the findings, we respect the rules by which we are governed and the fact that this decision is final. We will continue to support Emmanuel in every way to ensure he thrives as a student-athlete during his time here at Boise State and look forward to his future contributions to our men’s basketball program.”
Sources told the Idaho Press that Arizona was not supportive of Boise State’s waiver request, which ultimately hurt the case. Arizona disagreed with Boise State’s portrayal of the situation that led to Akot’s transfer, according to a source.
Arizona likely wouldn’t want to admit to any wrongdoing or negative situation with the potential for an NCAA investigation still possible.
Another transfer from Arizona, guard Alex Barcello, had his waiver approved to play this season at BYU. But sources said his case was family related and not tied to the FBI investigation at Arizona.
“I think we fired off an honest waiver and said what we had to say and it just didnt get approved,” Rice said. “The hardest thing about these waivers is there is no transparency. You see all these waivers getting approved and some getting denied and people are wondering well why does he get approved and he gets denied. There’s no transparency. That makes it hard on fans, and coaches.
“It’s the rule and we need a governing body to make some rules, so we can’t just go with them when we agree with them. We have to live by it. It will turn out for the best for Boise State basketball and Emmanuel.”
The Idaho Press reached out to the NCAA asking for comment or clarification on Akot’s appeal being denied, but didn’t immediately hear back.
The 6-foot-8 Akot was a five-star prospect and ranked as the No. 24 overall player in the 2017 recruiting class by 247Sports. He signed with Arizona over offers from Oregon, Louisville, Virginia Tech and several other high-major programs.
When he takes the court for Boise State next fall, he’ll be the highest-ranked prep prospect ever to play for the Broncos, topping Chandler Hutchison — who went on to be a first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
“I’m a half-full guy and the one thing I do know is two years from now we’ll be pretty happy we have Emmanuel still,” Rice said. “We have an opportunity to develop him, and I felt that way all along. Sure he could help this team but he’s going to be a way better player in the next two years than he is right now because I’ve seen the growth he’s had in the last four months.
“The long term good of the program, when we look back at it, it will be like Garth Brooks says, an unanswered prayer maybe. For him it will probably be better in the long run.”
BRONCOS HOST UC IRVINE FRIDAY
Boise State (1-1) returns to action Friday at 7 p.m. when it hosts UC Irvine (2-1) at ExtraMile Arena. The Anteaters return four starters from a 31-win team that won the Big West regular season and tournament titles and upset No. 4 seed Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year.
“To accomplish that at a place like Irvine is remarkable,” Rice said. “They have a winning culture, they play really hard and they’ve built a quality program. It’s going to be a dog fight, I know that. We’re in for a battle.”
The Broncos are looking to rebound from a 106-75 loss at No. 15 Oregon last week. The 31-point defeat was the worst in Rice’s 10 years at the helm.
Tickets start at $10, but those that bring non-perishable food items can purchase tickets for $7.