The NCAA voted on Wednesday to grant winter athletes an additional year of eligibility, citing the uncertainty and risk inherent in the upcoming 2020-21 season. It’s an unprecedented move that could have an enormous impact on basketball rosters in the coming years, including T.J. Otzelberger’s rebuilding job at UNLV.
Otzelberger is in favor of the ruling.
"I think it's a great gesture by the NCAA to make sure these kids have the best student-athlete experience," Otzelberger said, "and it allows them to make the best decisions for their futures."
Here’s how the new rule could affect UNLV:
Maybe the most important factor in how this extra year will be applied is — as usual — money. Each individual school will incur the cost of honoring the extra year of scholarships, and current seniors who choose to stay through 2021-22 will not count against the 13-player scholarship limit, so the financial figures could get wacky.
For instance, a power-conference team that brings back five seniors for an extra year could conceivably carry (and pay for) 18 scholarship players next season; a mid-major program probably can’t afford to do that, so additional scholarship years will be granted conservatively. Seniors who want to stay in college but don’t fit into the budget will be released to play elsewhere (not coincidentally, the NCAA is also reportedly on track to pass a rule allowing one-time transfers without sitting out).
Based on the budget alone, expect UNLV to stay at 13 scholarships.
From a scholarship standpoint, the ruling should have a minimal impact on UNLV moving forward. The 2020-21 team includes just one senior in center Mbacke Diong; if he chooses to stick around for another year he would almost certainly be welcomed back by the coaching staff, and he wouldn’t count against the scholarship limit in 2021-22. That makes Diong easy to plan around.
The majority of the rest of the roster is so young, with six true freshmen and two sophomores, that it would be nearly impossible to predict whether an extra year of eligibility will affect UNLV in the coming years. Player movement is only going to increase now that the NCAA will reportedly adopt a one-time transfer rule, so a bunch of the incoming 2020 freshmen may not even finish their college careers at UNLV. Projecting them out to the 2024-25 roster is the epitome of counting chickens.
Hamilton unlikely to stay
The best-case scenario for UNLV would be for junior guards Bryce Hamilton and David Jenkins to exercise their additional eligibility and stay in Las Vegas together for three more years. Both are All-Mountain West caliber players, and the program would be in terrific hands for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately for scarlet and gray fans, that is unlikely to happen.
Hamilton broke out in a big way last year, and with his size and athleticism he is developing into an intriguing pro prospect. It is expected that he’ll test the NBA waters after the 2020-21 campaign, so the odds of him even getting to his senior season — let alone a fifth-year season — appear iffy.
Jenkins is more likely to play two more years at UNLV, but how much longer would he want to stay beyond that? He already sat out the 2019-20 season as a redshirt transfer, so he’s currently a fourth-year junior. Fifth-year seniors are not uncommon, and Jenkins could very well stick with UNLV through 2021-22. But a sixth year may be asking too much, even if the coaching staff begs him to stay.
The Hamilton-Jenkins backcourt should be a fantastic pairing, but don’t bank on it lasting beyond this year, regardless of the NCAA ruling.
Who takes extra year?
So which UNLV players might end up exercising their option for an extra year of eligibility? I think two juniors stand out as possibilities: Marvin Coleman and Edoardo Del Cadia.
The reasoning is similar for both players. Coleman and Del Cadia are expected to be contributors on the court over the next two seasons, but they’re not necessarily projected as NBA prospects. And if UNLV starts winning NCAA Tournament games under Otzelberger, that’s a fun environment to be in, especially for Coleman, who is enjoying life as the program's resident hometown hero.
And both players are positive-attitude guys. The coaching staff won’t be counting down the days until they leave — quite the opposite. Coleman is the best leader UNLV has had in a decade and Otzelberger loves the tone he sets for the program; Del Cadia has already ingratiated himself to his teammates in a similar way.
For those tangible and intangible reasons, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Coleman and Del Cadia sign up for another year.