During away games, Idaho State never comes close to filling the bench. There’s always extra seats.
With four players redshirting, the 10 guys who do travel for the Bengals, at least by pure numbers, look meager compared to the full, filled-out rosters of opponents.
But that’s the state of ISU men’s basketball in 2013-14. True freshman Erik Nakken, a 6-foot-3 guard from Cedar City, Utah, is redshirting along with senior Nnamdi Ezenwa, freshman Andre Slavik and junior Ben Wilson.
Both Ezenwa and Nakken are sitting out this season by choice. Slavik and Wilson have not played a minute because each was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for amateurism violations before enrolling at Idaho State.
In Wilson’s case, he was not able to play because he played in what is the equivalent of club basketball back in Australia where he grew up a year after graduating high school.
Wilson played those games because he thought he had no choice. He was trying to get recruited in the United States but did not want to sit around for months without playing basketball.
Eventually, the 6-5 guard found his way to North Platte Community College in North Platte, Neb. By his sophomore season, Wilson was a team captain and North Platte won a school-record 30 games.
Only when he reached Pocatello did ISU and Wilson learn that the club basketball he played years before meant he was ineligible for this season.
Or at least that what they thought.
Idaho State had a home-and-home series with Cal State Bakersfield in the preseason. The Roadrunners had a player in a similar situation as Wilson, and that program had successfully appealed to the NCAA to reverse its initial ruling.
“We didn’t think we had much hope till a dude from Cal State Bakersfield appealed and won,” Wilson said. “So that’s when we started to get the ball rolling.”
At first, the goal was for Wilson to return by the start of Big Sky action early in January. But it was not until last week that the NCAA’s response came back green-lighting Wilson to take the floor with 11 games left.
It was decision time. Sit the rest of this season and still have two years of eligibility, or Wilson could play right away and try to help ISU reach the postseason tournament.
“It was a hard decision for both of us because we think he could help us win games this year,” said Bengal head coach Bill Evans. “But in the long run it was best for our program, best for Ben, to have two complete years instead of maybe one year and X amount of games.”
Added Wilson: “It’s tough. … I wish I could be there and playing. But I think I made the right decision to get my full two years where I can get 28 games as opposed to the final 11. So I made that decision. But, yeah, it’s been really tough. But I’m still coming to practice today. I’m still part of the team.”
And eventually it could all turn out as a net positive for Idaho State. Wilson has an extra year to adjust to life in America and playing Division I basketball.
“I’ve got a lot of stuff I’ve got to work on,” he said. “I’m happy I’ve got this extra year. I’ve got a lot stronger. I’ve added a bit of weight. And I’ve also gained the experience of a Division I environment.”