Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rush For Judgment

If A.J. Price needs to look for inspiration that he'll be able to return from his ACL injury at full strength next season, all he has to do is observe what Brandon Rush did this season at Kansas.

Rush tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) last May, shortly after deciding to skip his junior season and enter the NBA draft. Fortunately for Rush, he hadn't hired an agent, so he was able to remove his name from the draft and play this season.

And Rush has played very well, averaging 13 points per game for the powerful Jayhawks and enhancing his draft status from a year ago.

Rush, a 6-foot-6 guard, had his ACL surgery on June 1 and returned to game action a bit ahead of schedule on Nov. 15 – 5 ½ months after his surgery. Price, who tore his ACL midway through the first half of UConn's eventual 70-69 overtime loss to San Diego in an NCAA tournament first-round game on Friday, is slated to have surgery at the end of next week. That would put him about two months ahead of Rush's schedule from a year ago.

UConn director of sports medicine Jeffrey Anderson said Price should be back to game action after six months of rehab, meaning Price could easily be ready to play by First Night festivities in mid-October.

Oh, and as for the possibility of a second medical redshirt ... well, there's no such thing. But Price could apply for another year of eligibility if he's unable to play next year due to his ACL injury.

Student-athletes have four years of sports eligibility to be used in a five-year window, but that can be extended to a sixth year in special circumstances. Price, a junior, has missed two full seasons in his four years at UConn – one as a result of a life-threatening bout with Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM), one after being suspended for stealing laptops.

He received a medical hardship waiver after his battle with AVM, and while there is no such thing as a second medical hardship waiver, UConn could ask the NCAA for another year of eligibility for Price due to extenuating circumstances.

"If you have somebody within their five-year window that doesn't have the opportunity to use four years of eligibility as a result of circumstances beyond their control – for instance, two season-ending injuries – that entitles them to apply to a waiver for a sixth year," said Joe D'Antonio, who's the associate commissioner in charge of compliance and governance for the Big East. "What it really does is extends the five-year window to another year, allowing them to use four seasons in a six-year period rather than a five-year period."

Price's laptop suspension wouldn't enter into the equation in applying for a sixth year, since that was a situation within his control.

After ACL surgery next week, Price is expected to be able to return to game action after about a six-month rehab process. But if he runs into any problems along the way and isn't able to play next year, he could apply for a waiver.

D'Antonio isn't aware of the specifics of Price's situation, but said: "Hypothetically, if someone is not able to rehab over the summer and be ready to play next year as a result of a medical injury, he would be a candidate – I can't tell you if he'd get it or not, there are no guarantees – for a five-year waiver."

If Price re-injures his knee next season, he could only apply for a waiver if he has played in no more than three games or 30 percent of UConn's schedule – whichever number is greater – and hasn't competed at all over the second half of the season.

If Price plays all of next season, there is virtually no chance of him getting the waiver. Just look at the situation with University of Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk, who was redshirted his first season at Wake Forest, transferred to Cincinnati and sat out most of another year due to a shoulder injury.

Mauk asked for a sixth year to exhaust his eligibility, arguing that he was forced to take the redshirt year as a freshman. His request was denied by the NCAA.

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