As has long since been rumored and, perhaps even expected, Esa Ahmad will be taking in the long view when West Virginia’s season kicks off in 45 days.
Today, the NCAA handed notice to Bob Huggins that Ahmad would indeed be forced to sit for the first half of the upcoming season due to what it has cited as “failure to meet eligibility standards”. Because the NCAA operates masterfully under a shroud of ambiguity, there is no set return date. The likely case, is that we’ll next see #23 lace up his Nikes in early January during Big XII play.
The Cleveland, Ohio born forward was going to be a considerable presence next season, particularly for offensive purposes. Last year, Ahmad posted a solid clip of 11.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest to go along with over 23 minutes of floor time.
While Esa could be erratic at times, he showed out when it counted. He’s a player that some deem to possess NBA-caliber talent and can certainly continue to develop into such a prospect, however this latest brush with the powers that be won’t help him continue to develop his mid-range shooting, which, up to this point, has been a particular strong suit.
Luckily, the Mountaineers return good depth and all signs point to Maciej Bender stepping in as the likely replacement for Esa Ahmed during his absence. Bender saw some quality minutes last year and understands the gauntlet the Mountaineers have to run this season with an extensive string of prime time games.
Still, Ahmad’s absence in the line up will be felt. The Mountaineers aren’t built around the fortunes and failures of a single player and Huggins is very much a “next man up” coach in many senses. However, this was being billed as a breakout year for Ahmad and very much a continuation of the momentum the Mountaineers had built up during their Sweet 16 run in 2016.
All any of us can do is sit back and keep our ear to the ground regarding Ahmad’s status. Regardless of what occurs with college basketball’s governing body, we’ll all of us be ready for Ahmad to return to the floor sooner rather than later.