MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Depending on your blog of choice, West Virginia presumptively will regain forward Esa Ahmad for its Jan. 9 basketball game against Baylor or its Jan. 13 game at Texas Tech. Or it could be later.
“We’re waiting on word,” coach Bob Huggins said Thursday.
Presuming anything about Ahmad’s return date lacks precision because no one at the school can publicly discuss the scenarios that led to his half-season ban, or discussing the protocols required for reinstatement, which essentially would give away the transgression that led to his suspension.
Remember the long pause that preceded the news of quarterback Will Grier regaining his eligibility from a PED ban? Similar benchmarks must be met by Ahmad, whose suspension is consistent with a different NCAA classification of “street drugs” than Grier’s public admission at Florida that he ingested a performance-enhancing substance.
Again, West Virginia’s compliance staff has appropriately followed student-privacy protocols by keeping silent on this matter but NCAA guidelines provide a soft target date:
— In a 31-game regular-season schedule, such as WVU’s, the half-season ban “rounds up” to the 16th game.
— Exhibitions (and charity games) do not count toward fulfilling the suspension. Only legitimate games that affect a team’s win-loss record will be factored into Ahmad’s 16-game ban.
— After a drug suspension expires, the school must petition the NCAA for reinstatement by showing the athlete is testing clean. Because this process typically is expedited, the athlete should be eligible for the ensuing game and not left in red-tape limbo.
Texas Tech represents the Mountaineers’ 17th regular-season game, and Ahmad, should he fulfill reinstatement requirements, could be in uniform that day.
What sort of midseason boon might Ahmad provide for a team currently ranked No. 11?
“He’s our best interior passer,” Huggins said. “He’s probably as good a rebounding small forward as there is in our league. His skill level has improved tremendously. I think his confidence has improved tremendously.”
Ahmad continued practicing through his punishment, which could minimize concerns over rust and conditioning. He traveled to Germany, the AdvoCare Tournament and Pitt, absorbing a sideline view of what is and what isn’t working with “Press Virginia” and the sometimes-stagnant halfcourt offense.
An inside-outside scorer who’s an emphatic finisher, Ahmad strengthens the bench by allowing Lamont West to flourish in the sixth-man role.
“We’re going to have a game or two when he gets back and he’s got to kind of feel his way,” Huggins said. “But I can’t imagine it would be any more than a game or two.”
The Mountaineers (9-1), who face Division II Wheeling Jesuit in a Saturday exhibition, have weathered Ahmad’s absence so far. While next week’s nonconference slate of Coppin State and Fordham doesn’t foretell much resistance, then comes four Big 12 games before Ahmad could return.