NCAA VISITS NORTHEAST
By Mike Talbert
and Gene Phelps
BOONEVILLE The week junior forward Dontae’ Jones and Mississippi State went to the Final Four, an NCAA representative was at Northeast Mississippi Community College taking another look into Jones’ career there.
“I don’t know what their concerns were,” Northeast president Joe Childers said. “They asked permission to interview certain staff people and for us to provide space for them.”
Childers said that Dale Smith, identified by an NCAA spokesman as a former assistant commissioner of the Metro Conference, spent three days on campus the Final Four week.
The NCAA refused to comment on the visit. A spokesman said that the NCAA considers all inquiries confidential unless it takes action.
“I think it was ironic that the visit wasn’t until the end of the season,” Childers said.
The NCAA has taken several looks at Jones, one of the top junior college prospects in the country last season. Jones completed 36 hours of course work over the summer to graduate from Northeast and become eligible to play for Mississippi State. He had 23 hours in summer school at Northeast and completed 13 hours of correspondence work with the University of Southern Mississippi.
Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton said, “I’m completely satisfied that everything has checked out on the front end. To my knowledge the NCAA has checked on Dontae’ no less than 10 times.
“We have never dealt with anybody (at the NCAA) other than the eligibility group.”
Academics have been a problem with Jones his whole college career. He had to get a GED to play basketball at Northeast after dropping out of high school his senior year. Jones was exceptional as a basketball player, averaging 25.4 points and 28.7 points his two years at Northeast under coach Mike Lewis.
However, he had to clear an academic hurdle before carrying the Tigers to the NJCAA tournament. He was suspended for the final regular-season game in 1995 because he was technically not a fulltime student after he was dropped from two classes for non-attendance. He returned to the team after he was reinstated in one of the classes and regained his eligibility.
This season he was held out of the Jan. 31 Southeastern Conference game with Georgia when the NCAA found a discrepancy with his transcript from USM.
One grade was lowered a letter. He rejoined the team and went on to win MVP in both the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Southeast Regional. He was a major cog in Mississippi State’s winningest season ever (26-8) and its only Final Four appearance.
There is speculation that Jones, who averaged 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, will probably enter the NBA draft rather than return for his senior season. MSU officials were unable to confirm whether or not he was still enrolled.
Childers implied that Mississippi State’s success may have played a role in the NCAA’s most recent look into Jones’ records.
“I’m sure that there are some unhappy people from schools that Mississippi State played,” he said.
Childers stands behind Jones’ graduation from Northeast.
“I think that Dontae’ Jones would have checked out regardless of the circumstances,” he said. “Dontae’ is an outstanding young man. He completed all the work that he was credited with at this institution. That will be substantiated by the NCAA.”
Childers said that the NCAA has no jurisdiction over community colleges, but that the school has cooperated with it fully.
“We don’t want it to appear to be a cover-up,” he said.
Templeton said that Mississippi State had confirmed with both the NCAA and the SEC that Jones had received his degree from Northeast.
“In fairness to Northeast, we have to be careful,” Templeton said. “I know there are a lot of rumors floating around out there. Nobody at Mississippi State is questioning Northeast and how they do their business.”
When Jones completed 36 hours over the summer to establish his eligibility at an NCAA Division I school, it received a lot of attention nationally.
That may have been a factor in a new NCAA rule on junior college transfers. Under the new rules that apply to transfers after August 1997, not more than 18 semester hours of summer school work will count, and not more than nine hours in the summer immediately before transfer.
Jones would not have been eligible under the new standard.