Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Kevin Olekaibe’s basketball life currently includes about as much paperwork as it does nets. Tuesday night he was able to enjoy some of the latter as he played with a handful of other once and future Rebels in front of a few dozen fans at the first night of the Desert Reign ProCity League at Grant Sawyer Middle School.
The Fresno State transfer and former Cimarron-Memorial guard hopes to be eligible for UNLV this season, but first there’s a litany of steps and forms to complete. It’s like a video game where you have to beat each boss to move on to the next level, except Olekaibe’s not really the one with the controller. Most of it is out of his hands, an unfortunate feeling similar to that of his real life and the reason he’s back in Las Vegas in the first place.
Olekaibe got a call last winter from his mom, who told him his father, Benson, wasn’t doing well. A second stroke in recent years left Benson paralyzed below the waist and unable to speak. Last Sunday, Father’s Day, was another reminder for Olekaibe about the pain that brought him back to the desert and the love he’s felt since being here.
“It’s hard to know what he’s thinking,” Olekaibe said of his father. “I know he recognizes me but it’s hard to make it out.
“He smiles sometimes.”
Moments like that, one small step out of many required to achieve a goal, give Olekaibe hope his dad will eventually recover and make it out of local hospice care. Olekaibe's also hopeful that his own, admittedly less important, journey to get eligible for the 2013-14 season will have a happy ending.
He’s already pleaded his case before a two-person board at Fresno State just to get a release from the school, which didn’t want to let him transfer within the conference. The Bulldogs didn’t want it to happen for competitive reasons — Olekaibe averaged 17 points per game in two victories against UNLV last season — but he said he also didn’t make clear his family’s situation at the time.
From there the process goes something like this: Olekaibe, a senior-to-be who hasn’t used a redshirt, is taking classes at UNLV but he’s not yet fully admitted. Because of that he can play with or against potential teammates at Desert Reign — four other Rebels plus recent grad Quintrell Thomas played in Tuesday’s first game, Olekaibe in the second — but he can’t attend team workouts.
That’s likely to change within the next week, when Olekaibe is expected to get enrolled and practice with the team. Once that happens, UNLV will submit the paperwork it’s been preparing to apply for a hardship waiver that would allow Olekaibe to forego the two non-participation seasons the NCAA has in place to discourage transfers within a conference.
Add the bureaucratic steps necessary to convince the NCAA he’s not transferring for competitive reasons — Example A: He’s going to be a walk-on, which is unheard of with traditional transfers — to the anguish of not remembering the last words his father said to him and you can see why playing in an organized pickup game Tuesday is “no pressure.”
Most of the crowd wore Rebel red yet Olekaibe was a surprise late addition to the roster, walking into the gym to a smattering of applause from the few who recognized him. He scored early, showed some of the rust he knew he would have to shake off and generally enjoyed forgetting about the uncertainty awaiting him on the next court and in his father’s room.
Olekaibe said he knows he made the right decision by coming back to Las Vegas. Knows it every time he sees his mother smile and the few times his father does the same. If the NCAA doesn’t see that then there’s nothing more he can do.
Soon enough the paperwork will be completely done and then it will be up to the NCAA to decide, likely before the fall semester but not necessarily, if his basketball life can return to normal.
“I have a legitimate case, it’s not like a regular transfer,” Olekaibe said. “I came home for my family. It’s real life.”
UNLV sophomore Savon Goodman led all scorers with 44 points in a 126-113 victory in the first game at Grant Sawyer Middle School. Goodman’s teammates included Thomas (23 points) and fellow sophomore Daquan Cook (15 points). On the other side were juniors Jelan Kendrick and Roscoe Smith, who combined for 68 points in the loss.
In the second game, Olekaibe chipped in 17 points in a 125-117 victory against a team that included former Rebel Marcus Lawrence (nine points).
UNLV sophomore Demetris Morant sat on the bench but didn’t play because he’s still recovering from surgery on a finger. Freshman Kendall Smith watched from the stands as he awaits official clearance to participate. Both players are expectd to play as soon as next week.
Games continue Wednesday night and then pick up again next Tuesday. All games are free to attend.