Right after South Florida’s men’s basketball team left Friday for its flight to Memphis, and perhaps coach Seth Greenberg’s most prestigious win as the Bulls’ head coach, USF received bad news from the NCAA.
The NCAA declared 6-foot-3 walk-on freshman Raphael Toren ineligible for the 2002-03 season.
“I’m a little bit pissed,” Toren said. “I came to play basketball, and all my friends from Israel that also played pro ball served an eight-game suspension and they were (in exactly the same situation) as me.”
While Toren was serving in the Israeli Army, he played for a professional team, receiving what USF says were only expenses and not a professional contract.
“Every player agreement he ever signed with the club team specifically stated reimbursement for expenses only, which is acceptable to the NCAA,” Director of Basketball Operations Brad Greenberg said. “Reimbursement for expenses only connected to traveling to and from practices and games.”
Greenberg is serving as the point person to Associate Athletic Director Compliance Steve Horton to get Toren eligible.
The NCAA rule for players who participated on a professional team is they need to sit out 20 percent of, or up to eight games. Eight games for the Bulls came on Dec. 21 against Michigan State.
After the date passed, USF brought in lawyers who were familiar in dealing with this type of situation.
The law firm of Holland and Knight worked with USF to answer questions from the NCAA on his career in Israel.
The firm sent out an inch-thick packet of their answers to the NCAA last week and received a reply Friday afternoon.
“We’re baffled how they can possibly look at all the materials we sent them, read all the answers to the questions they have asked of us, and come up with any decision that he had an intent to professionalize himself,” Greenberg said. “It’s clear to us that he did everything possible to maintain his amateur status.”
USF was so confident with the fact that Toren should be eligible, that they included a page for him in the media notes given before the Bulls matchup with Southern Miss on Jan. 14. Also, Horton was in his office searching for a plane ticket Friday afternoon to Memphis, so he could meet with the team for the game against the Tigers the next day.
“I expected to go to Memphis,” Toren said. “They told me that I should stay and they would call me in the afternoon when the NCAA would have the decision, and they would fly me into Memphis.
“But instead of calling to go, they called me said that they consider me as a pro player, and I can’t play now.”
With that devastating blow, Horton and USF are still trying to get Toren on the court this season. They have started to look into an appeal of the NCAA’s denial.
“They are in the process of reviewing options for how to initiate the appeal process,” Greenberg said. “Discussing it internally and with outside legal help.”
Throughout the Bulls’ appeals, and lawyers answering league questions, they remain baffled that the NCAA does not see the same way on Toren’s past playing days.
Also adding to USF’s questions, is a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution that says there are 390 foreign players currently on Division I rosters. USF believes that some of those have to be in the same situation as Toren.
“That’s why it is so confusing as to what they are interpreting, as to what is the problem with them being comfortable saying he was an amateur,” Greenberg said. “He never had any intent to professionalize. We feel very, very strongly about that. If he wanted to be a pro he could have.”
“When he was released from the military, he could have signed a professional contract and chose not to, so it’s the NCAA.”
For Toren, who was brought in because of his shooting, passing and ability to post up smaller guards, all he can do is wait and continue to practice like he was playing in the next game.
“I am angry,” Toren said. “I came here, and everyone told me eight games. I prepared myself to sit eight games, and suddenly the NCAA came and changed their decision.”
Bryan Fazio covers men’s basketball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org