Had the NCAA ruled J.P. Olukemi ineligible for the second half of the 2012-13 season mere weeks after teammate Brian Williams' season-ending wrist injury, it would have been a damaging one-two punch to the gut for Oklahoma State.
Thankfully for the Cowboys, the NCAA showed lenience Wednesday evening, granting Olukemi's appeal for a waiver enabling him to play a full final season at Oklahoma State.
At issue for Olukemi was a mistake he made five years ago before he enrolled in college.
During his lone year at Stoneridge Preparatory School in Simi Valley, Calif., the school's team was shut down and Olukemi's coaches instructed him to attend classes at a junior college to remain eligible. That started his college eligibility clock, which gives players only five years to complete their four seasons of basketball.
By the letter of that law, Olukemi's five years would have run out at the end of the fall semester in late December since he'd already taken a redshirt year as a result of injury. The NCAA deserves credit for making a sensible ruling in the best interest of Olukemi's future by allowing him to play a full season as a fifth-year senior.
"We would like to thank the NCAA for its due diligence in this matter," Cowboys coach Travis Ford said in a statement. "Looking out for the student-athlete and their best interests should be what's most important, and it certainly showed in this decision."
The NCAA's lenience is critical for Oklahoma State because the Cowboys could not afford to be without both Olukemi and Williams. The 6-foot-6 Olukemi averaged 9.4 points and 4.8 rebounds last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury just before the start of Big 12 play. The 6-foot-5 Williams came on strong in his absence, averaging 9.6 points per game and leading the team in scoring three times.
There's optimism at Oklahoma State surrounding the pairing of impact freshman Marcus Smart and dynamic sophomore Le'Bryan Nash, but that duo can't propel the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament by themselves. They need complementary pieces — and Olukemi's athleticism, slashing ability and perimeter defense make him an important one.
As recently as Monday, Ford had yet to receive word from the NCAA regarding Olukemi's status. He's no doubt very relieved, however, because Olukemi's presence for the full year gives Oklahoma State a far better chance of bouncing back from last year's 15-18 season and perhaps returning to the NCAA tournament.