Smith blocked by grades

March 10, 1995|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Maryland All-American Joe Smith this week had his name withdrawn from consideration for the 1994-95 John R. Wooden national Player of the Year award by university officials for academic reasons, the chairman of the award's executive committee said yesterday.

According to Duke Llewellyn, the decision came Monday after Maryland assistant athletic director Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, citing the Buckley Amendment privacy law, told him that the university could not provide a letter confirming that Smith had maintained a 2.0 (or C) grade-point average through the fall semester.

"I asked them all week and they finally said they couldn't provide that letter saying he had a 2.0," Llewellyn said yesterday from Los Angeles. "I talked with the athletic director. I talked with the academic adviser and I was finally told they were withdrawing his name. I'm sorry about it. He's a fine ballplayer."

When reached for comment yesterday here in Greensboro, where she is attending the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Adams-Gaston said, "I am not at liberty to talk about that at all."

Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said that Smith, a sophomore, is "in good academic standing at Maryland and with the NCAA." Sports information director Herb Hartnett said that the university provided all the proper paperwork for the committee. "Apparently, he did not meet the criteria," said Hartnett.

According to Maryland guidelines, athletes must carry a 1.29 grade-point average after the first semester of their freshman year, a 1.78 at the end of their freshman year, a 1.86 at the end of their sophomore year, a 1.94 at the end of their junior year and a 2.0 going into their senior year.

The NCAA requires athletes to either pass a minimum of 24 hours toward their degrees over the course of a school year -- 18 of which have to be passed before the summer session -- or average 12 credits per semester. The NCAA also requires athletes to maintain a minimum grade-point average going into their junior year. In Smith's case, he would need to have a 1.8 GPA going into the fall 1995 semester.

The exclusion of Smith's name from the list of 15 finalists released Wednesday raised questions about the selection process, especially considering that Smith was considered one of the favorites for the award given annually by the Los Angeles Athletic Club in honor of the legendary UCLA coach.

Smith said after practice yesterday at the Greensboro Coliseum for tonight's quarterfinal between Maryland and Florida State that he was taken by surprise, first by the announcement and later when he learned why he wasn't selected as a Wooden finalist.

"It's very disappointing," said Smith. "I didn't know what it was about. I've been working hard and I thought I've been doing pretty good in school."

Two other players, Bryant Reeves of Oklahoma State and TCU's Kurt Thomas, the nation's leading scorer and rebounder, were withdrawn by their respective schools for the same reason. Llewellyn said that the only player of Smith's stature who had to pull out of consideration was former Kansas star Danny Manning.

"It was after his junior year in 1987," said Llewellyn. "But I talked with his father after the season and I think it was a wake-up call for Danny. He came back with a strong year academically and won the award in 1988."

Smith, the ACC's leading scorer and its second-leading rebounder, is among five players considered finalists for the Ban-Naismith Award and for the RCA-U.S. Basketball Writers Award. Those awards do not have any academic requirements.

Smith would likely be among the top three picks in this year's NBA draft if he decides to file for early eligibility. Smith has said repeatedly that he will make up his mind after the season.

L Smith said that yesterday's news would not be a distraction.

"I'm still going to come out and play hard no matter what awards I get or don't get," he said.

NOTE: The Maryland players got a surprise telephone call before they left the campus yesterday -- from their ailing coach, Gary Williams. According to Smith, Williams told the players "to forget about Sunday's game at Virginia [a 92-67 defeat] and come down here and play well. We hadn't talked to him in so long, I think it got us pumped up."

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