Oregon's Chris Boucher awarded extra year of eligibility

The Dagger
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

One of Oregon’s best players is eligible to return next season.

The program announced Wednesday that forward Chris Boucher’s petition for another year of eligibility was granted by the NCAA. Boucher is one of the nation’s premier shot-blockers (3.1 per game – second in the country) while averaging 12.1 points and a team-leading 7.6 rebounds per game.

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“Chris is a tremendous young man, and we’re very excited to have him back with us for another year,” head coach Dana Altman said in a release. “He has done everything we’ve asked of him, has been great to work with and I’m glad he will have the opportunity to continue to develop as a player as well as finish his degree.”

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His emergence has been a key to the team’s Pac-12 title and No. 1 seed in this week’s NCAA tournament. And though he could always opt to play professionally next season, his probable return for the 2016-17 campaign helps the Ducks remain a strong contender to repeat as league champs.

Boucher’s story is a unique one that Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg detailed in a December story:

It's remarkable that Boucher is now a key contributor at Oregon because he didn't begin playing organized basketball until age 19.

A native of the Caribbean island Saint Lucia, Boucher moved with his family to a hardscrabble, crime-ridden section of Montreal when he was a toddler. He frequently played pick-up basketball at the park or at a local gym, but he and his family were seldom stationary long enough for him to join a school or club team that practiced regularly.

"We worked through tough situations that forced me to move around a lot growing up," Boucher said via email. "Looking back it wasn’t just me though. I had many friends, relatives, and their families going through the same issues you see in neighborhoods affected by poverty, crime, and unemployment. One of my favorite things during that time was going to play ball in the park. I knew I wanted to do that instead of hanging out with the wrong people."

Basketball might have merely remained a hobby for Boucher had he not received an invitation to spend a post-graduate year at a Quebec prep school founded to provide French-speaking players superior training, competition and exposure. Boucher was already 19 by then and lacked the grades to proceed directly to a Division I program, but he flashed enough potential that his prep school coaches had little trouble finding junior college suitors.

Boucher landed at New Mexico Junior College in Fall 2013 and averaged 11.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in his only season there. He then moved on to Northwest College in Wyoming, where he earned national junior college player of the year with sparkling numbers – 22.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game – en route to a NJCAA Division I quarterfinal appearance.

His performance at Northwest attracted the attention of Oregon, which initially listed the 6-foot-10, 200-pound Boucher as a junior when he arrived on campus. The NCAA later ruled Boucher, now 23, a senior because it said his eligibility should begin with his post-graduate year.

Oregon filed a petition on Boucher’s behalf and broke down its reasoning for USA Today:

The NCAA’s eligibility center requires that all prospective intercollegiate athletes supply a timeline accounting for all of their activities prior to college competition. Boucher’s timeline included a final year of high school as a junior in 2010-11, a year of inactivity in 2011-12, and a year of what would equate to postgraduate study that included 13 games of competition in 2012-13.

The NCAA, however, has deemed the end of his junior year as his high school graduation date, leaving 2011-12 as a postgraduate “gap year” and the time at Alma Academy and the 13 games he played against other prep schools as his first year of college competition. Thus, it views Boucher’s two seasons of junior college play as his sophomore and junior seasons of eligibility and this season his final, senior year.

Oregon sees it differently, and five members of its compliance staff have put together a request for a waiver that they plan to submit to the NCAA as soon as the end of this week. The request, which seeks a final season of eligibility for Boucher in 2016-17, includes a series of documents known as statements of fact, such as transcripts and other documents, and statements of mitigation in the form of letters from Boucher, Rwigema and Appiah, and Boucher’s parents.

Oregon is arguing three points, according to Jody Sykes, the school’s senior associate athletic director for compliance:

*That if not for his family hardship, Boucher would have been more successful in his ninth through 11th-grade years and would have qualified for a 12th-grade year. That would make 2012-13 a postgraduate year (a common waypoint for many college basketball prospects in the states), and not a season of college competition.

*That the 13 prep school games he played with Alma Academy in 2012-13 do not equate to a full season of collegiate competition.

*Third, that if he is allowed to remain participating in basketball at Oregon next season, he will be able to finish his undergraduate degree at the same time, becoming the first person in his family to graduate college.

Now that Boucher’s waiver has come to fruition, Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens, in a university release, praised the Ducks’ compliance staff and the NCAA for its timeliness in making a decision.

“Chris is an outstanding young man, and we’re excited he’ll be able to continue progress toward his degree and compete for one more season,” Mullens said.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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