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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Home sweet home

Posted on head men’s basketball coach Dean Ellis’ office door is a photo of four NMU basketball players. Above the photo are two Quebec flags and large text reading “We’re Back.”

Last week, the players in the photo, juniors Mark D’Agostino, Sebastien Salois, Chris Warner and freshman Alex Sabino-Ifill, along with Natalie Larocque from the women’s team, were declared by the NCAA to be ineligible. But, as the sign reads, they’re back.

And if you ask Ellis how he felt on Nov. 7 when the athletes were allowed to don the green and gold again, it’s clear he’s happy with the decision.

“We were like ecstatic,” Ellis said. “It was like you lost something, you thought you were going to get it back, you lost it again, and then miraculously it appeared.”

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All five athletes hail from Quebec, Canada, and following their 11th year of high school, attended two-year post-secondary schooling called CEGEP. That time in CEGEP was the reason for NCAA action.

When the NMU players were deemed ineligible last Monday, the NCAA was reinterpreting a 2001 rule concerning amateurism. According to Ellis, the new interpretation of the amateurism rule, effective with the next recruiting class, will count each year over two at the CEGEP level as a year of NCAA eligibility.

If a CEGEP athlete then makes the jump to NCAA Division II sports, they are required to sit out one year, Ellis said.

“This isn’t a men’s basketball issue, or a women’s basketball, it’s a CEGEP Division II athletic issue,” he said.

As of now, according to the NCAA’s 2008 International Academic Standards for Athletic Eligibility, an athlete hailing from the CEGEP is not considered a transfer student because Quebec students are required to attend two years of CEGEP before attending university.

All three juniors on the men’s team would have used up their four years of NCAA eligibility by the start of the season if the NCAA had not grandfathered them in.

According to Ellis, the rule was being investigated for three weeks prior to the ruling. Each of the athletes was required to fill out a survey with questions regarding their past participation in CEGEP at that time.

“They didn’t think the surveys they were taking were anything. We just blind-sided them that they were done (at the time),” Ellis said. “It was a terrible feeling.”

On Nov. 3, just before the men’s team made the trip down to East Lansing for their matchup with the Michigan State Spartans, Ellis and NMU Athletic Director Ken Godfrey brought Salois, D’Agostino and Warner into a room to break them the news. Sabino-Ifill had just undergone knee surgery and wasn’t going to make the State trip, so he was notified later.

Warner said, once he heard the news, he realized it wasn’t just about his athletic career being over.

“There was a lot more added stress, seeing how I’m toward the end of my academic career as well,” Warner said. “It would have been a disappointment both athletically and academically if that happened.”

All the players said they didn’t see the news coming, and when it happened, they were a bit shocked and angry.

“It was horrible to be honest. It was one of the worst days of my life,” Salois said. “Just having somebody tell you that your dream is over, just like that, for no good reason, it was real hard to take.”

Once Salois, Warner, D’Agostino and Sabino-Ifill were notified they were no longer members of the basketball team, the Quebec-natives bonded together for support. Though junior guard Marc Renelique wasn’t applicable under the new rule since he went to a junior college in North Carolina immediately after high school, Renelique said he wanted to be there for his Canadian teammates.

“At first, I kind of let it go for a little bit, because at first they were so mad and so upset,” Renelique said. “When it happened, it happened so weird that I said, ‘It can’t be over just like that. They’re going to have to do some type of review. You can’t just shut down like that without an explanation.'”

Warner added that the Canadians acted as a family during that time.

“In that situation, I think you have to come together, because you don’t really have anyone else,” he said. “We don’t have family up here, so we depended on each other to get through the time.”

And then, less than a week later, all five student athletes, including Larocque were granted their eligibility.

“It was a crazy moment because right then and there, you knew that you had that opportunity, you got it back, something that had been taken away, you got it back,” Warner said.

Now the men’s team hosts Northland Baptist on Saturday and the University of Minnesota-Duluth Sunday. The women’s team heads to Duluth to face their counterparts on Saturday.

Salois said he can’t wait to get in the game.

“Right now, everytime I hit the floor, I just remember that day. Just thinking that it could have been over, and now it’s not, I got a second chance and not everybody gets that second chance,” he said. “Every time I practice and every time I play, it just makes it more exciting.”

Warner said that, for him, especially, playing at the Berry will have been a long time coming, after his knee injury a year ago.

“It’s been a while, it’s been a whole year, and plus that whole week,” he said. “I’m going to use those experiences, sitting out last year, and last week, as fuel to really push me forward and push this team forward.”

Ellis said it would have been especially difficult to deal with the fact that Warner wouldn’t be able to play, considering all that his junior guard had been through.

In Warner’s sophomore season, the Wildcats expected to head to the NCAA Division II tournament, only to find out they didn’t earn a bid, then last season, Warner was sidelined with a knee injury.

“He was taking it great, as good as you could, but now he’s really enthused,” Ellis said. “All those guys are. And they can’t wait.”

The day Ellis found out he would be getting the four men’s basketball players back, he received a call from Michigan Tech head basketball coach and friend Kevin Luke.

“I told him, ‘Well, I thought we were going to be good before the year, and then I didn’t know how good we were going to be because we lost four guys.'” Ellis said. “I said, ‘Now, we’re going to be real good.'”

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