Whitaker to debut Saturday at Loyola Mount center ends wait of prison, 1st semester

December 16, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Melvin Whitaker will begin his Mount St. Mary's basketball career Saturday at Loyola College.

The long-anticipated debut of the 6-foot-10, 240-pound center from Raleigh, N.C., a former McDonald's All-American who spent more than two years in prison after high school for slashing a University of Virginia football player, will take place more than a week ahead of schedule.

Mount St. Mary's athletic director Harold Menninger initially said Whitaker wouldn't be eligible until 2 p.m. Saturday -- exactly 24 hours after the conclusion of final exams at the Emmitsburg school -- and thus wouldn't play until a road game at Georgia Tech on Dec. 30.

The Loyola game had been rescheduled twice, first from Sunday to Saturday and then from 4 p.m. to 1 p.m., leading to speculation that the Greyhounds were looking to avoid having to face Whitaker. But Menninger was informed yesterday by the Northeast Conference that NCAA rules permit players to regain their eligibility on the day after first-semester classes end.

"There's been a new interpretation of the rule," said Menninger. "If it had been 2 p.m., that would have meant he had to get to Baltimore on his own, that all we could do was leave a uniform for him in the locker room at halftime and he would have been eligible for the second half. It would have been a zoo."

As it is, Whitaker will participate in only a 9 a.m. walk-through with his new teammates Saturday, then join them for the pre-game meal and take the bus with them to Reitz Arena. Mount St. Mary's coach Jim Phelan said yesterday that Whitaker will see limited playing time against Loyola.

"I anticipate him playing mostly in a defensive posture, like foul-line situations where we might need a rebound," said Phelan, whose 4-4 team has been out-rebounded in every game this season.

Whitaker was not available for comment.

Phelan said that Whitaker's situation is similar to those in recent years that involved former players Irv Conwell and Riley Inge.

Conwell had six points and five rebounds in 10 minutes against Pittsburgh in 1996 after only one practice, and Inge played against Bucknell in 1993 with the benefit of only a pre-game walk-through, finishing with 11 points and 10 assists in 26 minutes.

L Whitaker's first full practice will come on Christmas night.

"I've never seen him play [in person]," said Phelan. "I wish I had. I hope he can play."

Whitaker, 22, is the most high-profile recruit to play for the Mount. After orally committing to Virginia while a senior at Oak Hill Academy, Whitaker failed to qualify academically under NCAA guidelines. Whitaker then attended Hargrave Military Academy and gained the necessary test scores to play at Virginia.

After leaving Hargrave in the spring, Whitaker took an apartment in Charlottesville. It was there that he got involved in a fight with a Cavaliers football player after a confrontation during an on-campus pickup basketball game. Whitaker slashed Maurice Anderson in the face with a box cutter.

Charged with malicious wounding -- Anderson's wound needed 75 stitches to close and left a permanent scar -- Whitaker was sentenced to 3 1/2 years. He wound up serving 26 months.

Pub Date: 12/16/98

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