FSU hasn't given up on Romero

NCAA rules 6-10 junior ineligible, but Seminoles fighting on player's behalf

ACC notebook

January 09, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

What has been touted as the best Florida State recruiting class in recent years might never step onto the court together, unless the Seminoles persuade the NCAA to change its mind regarding junior Diego Romero, a highly touted 6-foot-10 junior college transfer from Argentina.

Romero played briefly for a pro team in his native country before immigrating to the United States. The NCAA has since toughened its rules pertaining to such players, making them ineligible permanently. Romero's final appeal was denied in November.

But Florida State is pressing its case. The school wants to argue on Romero's behalf before the Division I management council. If that fails, Florida State president T.J. Wetherell said he plans to appeal personally to NCAA president Myles Brand.

The ordeal has taken its toll on coach Leonard Hamilton, whose rebuilding project has hit a snag in his second season in Tallahassee.

"I'm just waiting for something to materialize that can be fair and equitable. I've never been involved with anything that has affected me as much. It's almost as if I'm having a nightmare," Hamilton said.

"I read every piece of [NCAA] legislation concerning international kids for 2 1/2 years, to make sure we knew exactly what was going on, chapter and verse. I am completely confident that everything that has happened from our standpoint was in order. I don't want to get into verbal sparring with anybody. I'm just hoping something happens that is logical and makes sense."

Romero, who has said he signed two under-age contracts but received only expenses during his club career in Argentina, fell victim to the more stringent penalties the NCAA decided to impose on amateurism violations beginning in the current school year. The NCAA ruled that Romero's two years at Lon Morris (Texas) College and summer school at FSU did not make him eligible.

As they prepare for the rest of their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule and a possible breakout from the bottom of the standings, the 12-2 Seminoles are hopeful that Romero eventually will suit up and offer some help for 6-10 freshman Alexander Johnson, who is emerging as Florida State's most consistent threat in the post.

Said Hamilton: "It's almost like watching a movie when something has happened to someone that's innocent, and you just know sooner or later Superman or Batman or Hopalong Cassidy or the Lone Ranger or somebody is going to show up and rescue them."

Midseason moves

If you thought Maryland junior guard Andre Collins' decision to leave the team in December was unusual, think again. Midseason transfers are becoming more of the norm.

Sophomore center Michael Thompson recently received a scholarship release at Duke. So did North Carolina State sophomore guard Dominick Mejia and Clemson sophomore forward Julian Betko.

In addition, Georgia Tech recently got stronger with the insertion of junior guard Will Bynum, who left Arizona early last season. That allowed Bynum to get back on the court after sitting out half a season at each school. That condition is making the midseason transfer option increasingly attractive.

"I think transfers in general are up. I think sometimes they seem to be approaching epidemic numbers," N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said. "The days are long gone when young guys played on a freshman team and people were content to wait behind a junior or a senior or accept a limited role in some capacity. Guys want more sooner, it seems."

Garrison or Ibekwe?

After sophomore forward Travis Garrison scored his only points of the night by making a game-winning jump shot in overtime to lift Maryland past No. 1 Florida on Dec. 10, Terps coach Gary Williams hoped it would jump-start Garrison.

That never happened. And after Garrison scored five points in 19 ineffective minutes in an 89-56 victory over Mount St. Mary's on Saturday, Williams pulled the plug by giving 6-9 freshman Ekene Ibekwe his first career start against UMES on Tuesday night.

Williams said he will decide over the next week whether to leave Ibekwe in the starting lineup for Maryland's game against visiting North Carolina on Wednesday. Garrison and Ibekwe go head-to-head in practice.

"They played about the same against UMES. We'll know more from practice," Williams said. "It's nice to have a player from last year coming off the bench. Travis gave us something there last year. Maybe this will get him going, and we won't have all freshmen coming off the bench."

Neither player has been consistent, although Ibekwe gives the Terps a more aggressive player in the post and a more intimidating shot blocker who plays above the rim. Ibekwe is shooting 52.8 percent, is averaging 5.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 13.3 minutes, and is tied with Garrison for the team lead in blocked shots (18).

Garrison has been limited by severe foul trouble at times and has settled for too many jump shots and not enough power moves to suit Williams. Garrison is averaging 6.6 points and 4.8 rebounds on 41.1 percent shooting in 19.9 minutes.

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