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Barnes: Uros Plavsic “Deserves a Chance to Play”

Photo by Caitlyn Jordan/RTI

On Saturday, Tennessee announced that the NCAA had denied the immediate eligibility waiver of Arizona State transfer Uros Plavsic to play for the Vols’ men’s basketball team this season. Tennessee also said in their initial statement regarding the NCAA’s decision that they had made one appeal for the waiver already, and the NCAA had denied that.

On Monday, head coach Rick Barnes said at the Knoxville Quarterback Club that he and UT planned on pursuing another avenue for an appeal. On Monday afternoon during a media availability before Tennessee’s 2019-20 season opener on Tuesday, Barnes reiterated that decision and shed some light on the details.

Barnes said during his meeting with the media on Monday that while he and the rest of the men’s basketball program are disappointed in the NCAA’s denial, they aren’t giving up just yet.

“Well, I think we’re all disappointed. Uros is a wonderful kid. He’s been really patient with it,” Barnes said. “There is another avenue that we’re exploring. You have some appeals that you can do, so we do have an appeal left. I’ve got full confidence that (UT Athletics Director) Coach Fulmer and our compliance people are going to do everything they can. I know he’s (Fulmer) already made his statement about it.

“We’re all disappointed and somewhat surprised, to be quite frank. So we’ll see where it goes. Hopefully it can get rectified quickly.”

The Vols’ fifth-year head coach explained that this appeals process is different than the first one UT filed after receiving the initial rejection from the NCAA.

“There’s really three processes you can go through, and you can skip a process and come back to it if you want to do that, and that’s kind of what we did,” Barnes explained. “So with that said, again, I think everybody is doing everything they can. I certainly think, with what he’s gone through, he certainly deserves a chance to play basketball. Again, I hope it works out.”

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Barnes would go on to add that he and UT’s administration don’t know the numbers on whether or not secondary appeals have been successful at other schools or not, but the additional appeal processes are “in place for situations like this.”

Still, the reasoning behind who does and doesn’t get cleared seems murky to Barnes.

“When you go through these processes, you see some people getting cleared, some people not,” Barnes stated. “Sometimes, to be quite frank, you don’t understand some of them. Other ones, when they get denied like ours, we’re shocked by it, to be quite frank.

“Uros has done nothing wrong. He’s done everything that he was told to do, being a foreign student coming into a foreign country, going about things. He only knew what he knew by who he listened to. That’s all he knew. So that’s the tough part for him. I promise you, in his mind — he hasn’t done anything wrong — and he hasn’t, he hasn’t done anything wrong. I don’t think you can compare every case. Every case has to be looked at independently. I don’t think precedent has to be set. I think you look at each one and you just do the right thing.”

As of right now, neither Barnes nor Plavsic have heard back from the NCAA as to why the waiver was denied. Barnes understands the process teams and players have to go through in order to obtain a waiver, but he’s still mystified as to why Plavsic didn’t fit that criteria.

Barnes would like an explanation as to why Plavsic was denied initially. Even if he personally doesn’t get an answer, he’d like for Plavsic to receive an explanation.

“The first part you go through, I understand there are four or five boxes you have to fit in that automatically determine if you’ll have a waiver, and if not, there is an appeal process where you can show more information. Or then it goes in front of a committee of peers,” Barnes explained. “No one has told me yet (why Plavsic was denied). But I do think this: When it’s all said and done, we should know exactly why (he was denied). Again, I have great confidence in our compliance people and what they’re doing. Coach Fulmer has been on top of it as well.

“We’ll see, but it’s not over yet, and when it’s over, I’d like to know. If it’s not in the favor we want, I do think, whether I do (get an answer), Uros deserves that answer more than anybody. He deserves it.”

Plavsic came to the United States from Serbia, and he enrolled in Hamilton Heights down in Chattanooga for high school. There, Plavsic was recruited by former Georgia and UT-Chattanooga player Drazen Zlovaric while he was an assistant at Cleveland State. Plavsic committed to Cleveland State, but when Zlovaric, a fellow Serbian, was let go from the Vikings’ staff, Plavsic reopened his recruitment.

From there, Plavsic committed to and ended up signing with Arizona State. Just a few months later, Zlovaric was hired as an assistant under head coach Bobby Hurley for the Sun Devils.

This offseason, Hurley elected not to retain Zlovaric, and that had an impact on Plavsic’s situation at Arizona State. Plavsic decided to transfer shortly after, and now he’s at Tennessee.

There has been speculation that Arizona State hasn’t been the most compliant with the whole process, and Barnes was asked how much influence the school the player is transferring from can have. According to Tennessee’s head coach, the original school can play a large part in whether or not a waiver is successful or gets denied.

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“The first school has a lot to do with it. The first school can help a lot if they want to, if they say how things went and exited,” Barnes stated. “It’s real simple out there. If the school, when someone leaves, simply says there was not a spot on the roster (at the first school), that person is going to be deemed automatically eligible at the next place he goes. Then you get into the part where people say, ‘Does that mean you’re running off guys?’ That’s not necessarily the same thing.

“The ones that I know that have been able to get cleared immediately are where the school they’re leaving from fully cooperates to get that person eligible. I think in situations that we’ve been involved in, I felt like it was important that that person gets a chance to go and play right away, because I’m not sure sitting out helps anybody.”

This past offseason, former four-star power forward DJ Burns transferred off Tennessee’s roster following a redshirt freshman season in 2018-19. Burns transferred closer to home to play for Winthrop, and he was granted immediate eligibility for the upcoming 2019-20 season. In a Twitter post announcing the news, Burns thanked Tennessee for their help in getting his waiver approved.

Whether or not Arizona State’s compliance is a hang up isn’t something Barnes explicitly confirmed nor denied, but he made it clear that the school losing the player to transfer has a big impact on the waiver decision.

There is no timetable for how long Tennessee’s additional appeal will take to get processed. Until it is, Plavsic will remain on the bench and ineligible for the 2019-20 season.

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