MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia forward Esa Ahmad, for months rumored to be facing an NCAA suspension, is ineligible for the first half of the 2017-18 regular season, the school announced Tuesday.
The 6-foot-7 junior “did not meet NCAA eligibility requirements,” according to a WVU news release. The penalty is consistent with testing positive for a “street drug” during an NCAA-administered test.
Based on the 31-game regular-season schedule, Ahmad would have to sit out at least 15 games and could return for the Jan. 9 game against Baylor.
Ahmad averaged 11.3 points and 4.3 rebounds last season for a team that finished 28-9 and lost to Gonzaga 61-58 in the Sweet 16.
He was held out of three games late last February with what coach Bob Huggins attributed to a lower back strain. As a freshman in 2015-16, Ahmad missed a game against Kansas State with what the team described as a knee injury.
His absence will leave West Virginia shorthanded for a challenging nonconference schedule that includes Virginia, Pitt and a season opener against Texas A&M in Germany.
With the graduations of Nathan Adrian and Brandon Watkins, and the decision of fifth-year senior Elijah Macon to play overseas, Ahmad’s suspension means West Virginia returns only one frontcourt player who started a game last season. That distinction belongs to Sagaba Konate, who started once.