It’s safe to say that it’s been a whirlwind few months for Johnny Juzang. When we last saw Juzang he was on the court, and part of a Kentucky squad that rallied from 18 down to beat Florida in Gainesville in one of the wildest games of the season. Unfortunately, not only might that have been the highlight of the 2019-2020 Wildcats’ season it was the last one.
A few days later the season was cancelled due to Covid-19. A few weeks after that Juzang elected to transfer. And on April 9th, he committed to play the rest of his career at UCLA.
And for most Kentucky fans, I’m guessing that is probably the last they expected to hear from Johnny Juzang (unless of course, Kentucky and UCLA met in the tournament at some point). Instead however, Juzang was back in the headlines Wednesday. And while it turned out to be good news for Juzang’s new team UCLA, it could also turn into good news for his former team 3,000 miles away as well.
That’s because on Wednesday UCLA announced that Juzang has received a waiver from the NCAA and is eligible to play immediately next season. Despite not being a grad transfer, and despite John Calipari very publicly saying that he would welcome Juzang back with open arms if he wanted to return to Lexington, Juzang still got eligible. He will not have to sit out next season, and will instead rock a new shade of blue – this one with gold – on opening night of next college basketball season.
Of course by now I’m guessing that you’re all probably thinking the same thing: “Torres, where you going with this? And what does it have to do with Kentucky?”
Well, let’s get to that, and it’s simple really: Johnny Juzang getting his transfer waiver approved is a great sign for pretty much any player who will be seeking a waiver for immediate eligibility this off-season. That will include a lot of players across the country in the coming months. But as it pertains to this particular conversation, I think this is a great piece of news for Olivier Sarr.
To be clear, I’m not saying that Sarr will 100 percent get approved for a waiver. With the NCAA, you never know. Therefore, I would never, ever, EVER say that with 100 percent certainty. At the same time I feel better today about Sarr’s immediate eligibility than at any point this off-season.
If you’re looking for the reasoning, it’s actually pretty simple.
That’s because in talking to people around college basketball, most believed that Juzang didn’t have a particularly strong case to get immediate eligibility when he decided to leave Kentucky. Yes, it was clear he wanted to be closer to home. But as mentioned up top, Calipari publicly welcomed him back, meaning that at no point could Juzang claim that he was essentially forced out of the program (the term that people use in college basketball is “run off”). Meaning that – under normal circumstances – his best argument (“the coach forced me to leave”) couldn’t really be used. To further that point, I can tell you with certainty that there was one Pac-12 school who stopped recruiting Juzang because they didn’t believe they could get him eligible this upcoming season, and didn’t want to wait until 2021-2022 to see him on the court.
So the fact that Juzang got eligible is a great sign for programs all across the country about how the waiver process may look in these coming months. In talking to people across college basketball there has been a belief that the waiver process will be more lenient than in most years, and it’s for two reasons:
1) The NCAA will likely be putting in the one-time transfer rule next off-season. So why throw a huge fuss and force a bunch of players to sit out when the rule is going to get changed in a few months anyway? Why put yourself through that headache and negative publicity.
2) The coronavirus has created a ton of uncertainty not only in college sports, but in every day life. So if a player wanted to transfer out of a particular school and closer to home for their own safety, who is the NCAA to really stop them?
Of course that has all just been talk for the last few months.
Now, Johnny Juzang’s waiver might just be the proof that this will actually be the NCAA’s lien of thinking.
That’s because while only a handful of people know for sure what Juzang’s exact argument for immediate eligibility was, you can probably venture to guess what most of his explanation would center around. When Juzang elected to transfer and made it clear he wanted eligibility right away, I spoke to a few people and most everyone agreed his argument for immediate eligibility would look something like this: He didn’t want to be traveling back and forth across the country to attend college either during a pandemic, or during the final stages of a pandemic. And that he felt like it would be much better – and safer – for him to stay closer to home, where he would have to travel less, and was less likely to put himself or his loved ones at risk.
Again, that might not be his argument verbatim. But I’m guessing it’s pretty close.
And I’m also guessing that he won’t be the last transfer to use Covid-19 as his reason for transferring. Whether it’s about getting closer to family, limiting travel, limiting exposure, whatever, expect more and more players to use that kind of logic. And while it doesn’t mean that every kid will get approved the way Juzang did, Wednesday was a heck of a good sign.
Which brings us to Sarr.
At this point, his argument for immediate eligibility has been well-documented. And while it might not be quite as air-tight as Juzang’s, it is legitimately strong. As Sarr has said, his plan all along was to stay at Wake Forest. But then, his head coach got fired in early May. Not March, but May, and it came just days before the NBA entry deadline. It left him no time to legitimately weigh his options, and then on top of that, his new head coach was hired in the middle of a pandemic. He didn’t have the time to spend time around Steve Forbes, get to know him, build a relationship, whatever.
The fact that Forbes won’t stand in the way of Sarr’s waiver has to be a good sign too.
Now again, none of this promises anything. It is no guarantee that Sarr will be immediately eligible. And with the NCAA it really is impossible to know and at this point all we can do is read tea leaves.
At the same time, who are they to say that Juzang’s situation is more dire than Sarr’s? Who is to say that he shouldn’t have the same opportunity to play right away under the hand he was dealt, than Juzang or any other player??
Again, with the NCAA, you never do know.
But Olivier Sarr already had a great argument.
And it got even stronger on Wednesday thanks to Johnny Juzang.