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August 28, 2014

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UNLV basketball team’s zero grad rate misleading

When the NCAA released student-athlete graduation rates for 2000 on Monday, there was a familiar number under UNLV's men's basketball program.

A big, fat zero -- for the sixth year in a row.

That is the percentage of Rebels players who enrolled as freshmen on scholarship in 1994 and earned a UNLV undergraduate degree within six years, criteria set by the NCAA.

The men's basketball program graduated none of eight players fitting those criteria from 1995-2000 (1989-94 enrollees), according to the NCAA. Not since 1988 recruit Bryan Emerzian have the Rebels been credited with a six-year graduate; his 1992 graduation counted in the period ending in 1994.

Another zero is coming in the 2002 report, because both of the Rebels' eligible 1995 recruits transferred after one season, so they will count against UNLV as nongraduates.

At face value, especially with the widespread attention given to men's basketball graduation rates, the numbers paint a shockingly negative picture of UNLV's ability to recruit players who can succeed in the classroom.

And, as UNLV fans can attest, college basketball pundits have long poked fun at the Rebels for laggardly academic performance (insert favorite Underwater Basket Weaving joke).

But here are some other men's basketball teams with a zero graduation rate for players enrolling in 1994: Arizona, UConn, UCLA, Cincinnati, Florida, Louisville, Maryland, UMass, Memphis, Ohio State, Nevada-Reno, Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Temple and Tennessee.

Not only does UNLV have plenty of company among big-time programs, but a closer examination of the Rebels' graduation rates shows they might not be as academically deficient as all of those zeros suggest.

For instance:

That means UNLV's zero-percent rate for that six-year span is essentially based of three players who exhausted all of their eligibility with the Rebels but didn't graduate.

Amazingly, former Rebels guard H Waldman only stopped counting against UNLV this year -- a mere 11 years after he enrolled as a 1990 recruit under coach Jerry Tarkanian.

After two seasons at UNLV, Waldman transferred to Saint Louis, where he played under new Rebels coach Charlie Spoonhour from 1993-95 and earned his degree in 1995.

But in last year's NCAA Graduation Rates Report, Waldman still counted against UNLV in the four-year breakdown covering players whose graduation "clock" expired from 1996-99.

Spoonhour is aiming to boost the Rebels' graduation rate, but isn't fond of the NCAA's methodology. Though about 60 percent of his transfers to Saint Louis graduated, the Billikens' rate for 1994 enrollees was zero after being 100 percent for 1993 recruits.

"The NCAA has their rate, I have mine," said Spoonhour, whose UNLV contract contains incentives tied to his players' academic performance. "The NCAA's way of figuring is different from mine. My way is: I brought these guys in and did they graduate?

"We recruited 30 players to Saint Louis -- freshmen and transfers. Twenty of them got their diplomas and five were finishing up. We had Larry Hughes in the NBA and another guy playing in Europe. We also had two guys transfer out who both graduated."

With that much coaching turnover -- and the accompanying upheaval on the team and throughout the athletic program -- the Rebels lost players to transfer every year. Everybody who left has counted as a nongraduate -- zeros across.

"We acknowledge that we can and should do better," said Dave Rice, UNLV director of basketball operations. "But we also feel that the graduation rates don't accurately reflect the academic performance of most of the players we've had. There are a lot of factors involved."

At least the Rebels can look forward to a little good news. 1996 recruit Donovan Stewart graduated in May, so when the 2002 rates are issued in 2003, UNLV will zoom from zero to 50 percent, just like that.

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