Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Xavier's next game gets tougher

NCAA reinstates Mississippi State's big dog

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

An upcoming weekend trip to New York became a little more high profile for No. 13 Xavier on Wednesday.

No. 24 Mississippi State, which Xavier will play Saturday in Madison Square Garden, already was going to be XU's first ranked opponent.

Now the Bulldogs (5-1) have their "big man" back after the NCAA reinstated Mario Austin on Wednesday.

"Thank God it's over," said Don Jackson, Austin's lawyer who, along with university officials, represented Austin in his appeal with the NCAA.

Austin, a 6-foot-9 junior, had been held out of the Bulldogs' first six games while the NCAA looked into his initial freshman eligibility.

On Wednesday, the NCAA Subcommittee on Transcript Change heard a presentation from NCAA membership services officials on Austin's status and academic performance in college and decided to allow him to remain eligible at MSU. That same subcommittee ruled earlier that Austin was erroneously cleared to play as a freshman, which is why MSU held Austin out of action up to now. The NCAA's investigation centered on certain classes Austin took as a freshman and sophomore at Sumter County (Ala.) High and whether they met NCAA initial eligibility requirements.

"We're grateful that the committee took the time to evaluate everything carefully," Jackson said. "Now he can get his life back."

Austin wasn't able to participate in practices, according to Jackson. Now he's expected to be an integral part of the Bulldogs' game plan against Xavier (5-1).

"I feel good for him," said Xavier associate head coach Sean Miller, "and we recognize full well his ability. They may be the most talented of the teams that we've played to date.

"Any opponent without a player like that would be a lot like us with David West versus not having David West."

Last season Austin led Mississippi State as a sophomore, scoring 16.1 points and grabbing 7.6 rebounds a game.

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