UNLV basketball:

NCAA approves waiver for UNLV’s Kevin Olekaibe to play this season

The Rebels now require the Mountain West grant relief from its penalty for intra-conference transfers. Fresno State supported Olekaibe’s waiver

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Kevin Olekaibe drives around guard Deville Smith during their annual preseason Scarlet and Gray scrimmage Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack.

Updated Monday, Nov. 4, 2013 | 4:13 p.m.

Circumstances outside of his control brought Kevin Olekaibe back to Las Vegas. Thanks to the NCAA finally granting his hardship waiver today, he can make the best of a bad situation while he’s here.

UNLV announced this afternoon that the NCAA granted Olekaibe's hardship waiver. The Rebels now need a decision from the Mountain West to waive its penalties for an intra-conference transfer. UNLV hopes to get that approval by the regular-season opener on Friday against Portland State.

"We are thankful to the NCAA for approving this waiver on its merit," UNLV coach Dave Rice said in a statement. "We are pleased for Kevin and his family. We will now await approval from the Mountain West Conference."

Olekaibe, a Cimarron-Memorial High grad, began his career at Fresno State, where he averaged 17.8 points per game as a sophomore. Last year, he averaged a career-low 8.3 because of injuries and, he has said, being distracted by his family’s situation.

Olekaibe transferred back home because his father, Benson, took a turn for the worse after suffering multiple strokes in recent years. Benson Olekaibe is under local hospice care and can’t talk or interact with his family. Being able to play basketball doesn’t cure his family’s heartache, Olekaibe has said, but it gives them an outlet and distraction.

Across the country, Olekaibe was one of the last players to get a ruling on his transfer case. Part of that is because of the timing.

Even though Olekaibe announced his transfer in June, UNLV didn’t submit its paperwork until about the start of the fall semester. The Rebels waited because they wanted to include Olekaibe’s summer grades, and they were waiting for Fresno State’s backing.

It took time, but the Bulldogs supported Olekaibe’s intra-conference move. That support is a big reason the Mountain West's approval is expected to be a formality.

Standard transfers, like UNLV’s Khem Birch and Bryce Dejean-Jones, must sit out one year. Student-athletes who transfer within the same conference must sit out two years, which is why it almost never happens.

Those rules apply to moves made for basketball decisions. Although Olekaibe could certainly help UNLV on the court this year, his change was made with family in mind. Olekaibe isn’t using an athletic scholarship and he started taking classes long before he knew he would be able to play.

Olekaibe is expected to take a lot of the minutes that would have gone to Dejean-Jones, who’s out with a strained hamstring injury he suffered in Friday’s loss to Dixie State. The Rebels don’t yet have a timetable for Dejean-Jones’ return.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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