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NCAA Basketball

Tavon Sledge Eligible: How NCAA Decision Affects Iona, MAAC

Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

Just after 3 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, the Iona athletics department tweeted that Tavon Sledge, a transfer from Iowa State, would be granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA.

Sledge played sparingly — to be generous — as a freshman under Fred Hoiberg, but the 5-foot-9 point guard came out of high school with a decent amount of potential despite his height. With Scott Machado now in the NBA, the eligibility of Sledge will enable MoMo Jones to continue to log some minutes at the two. Iona also has JUCO transfer DaShawn Gomez to play the point, so Sledge’s addition simply gives Tim Cluess more depth in the backcourt.

However, this news comes as a bit of a surprise. When Sledge elected to transfer from Iowa State, playing time seemed to be the primary reason — he appeared in just eight games for a grand total of 18 minutes. He didn’t say outright that he left to seek more action, but former AAU coach Mike Moore told Adam Zagoria the following in April:

“The opportunity for playing time doesn’t exist for Tavon at Iowa State. The feeling amongst many people in the basketball circles is that Tavon is a dynamic point guard who has tremendous upside. It’s also felt that in the right situation, Tavon has the ability to dominate at the point guard position.”

Generally, the NCAA won’t grant immediate eligibility to a transfer seeking more minutes. But what makes this situation even stranger is that Cluess didn’t even know if Sledge had pursued a waiver as of the end of September. On Sept. 27, Big Apple Buckets interviewed the third-year coach, asking if, to his knowledge, Sledge had asked for a waiver. Cluess responded: “Not at this point, no.”

The NCAA takes forever to grant or deny waivers — just ask Jones, who wasn’t granted eligibility until just weeks before last season. So Sledge must have requested the waiver without Cluess knowing, which seems odd. There’s almost a zero-percent chance that Sledge requested the waiver after Big Apple Buckets’ interview and became eligible less than a month later, given his reason for transferring. Maryland transfer Ashton Pankey requested a waiver months ago after transferring to Manhattan to be closer to his mom — he called it a “personal isssue” with her — and the Jaspers still don’t know if their new big man will suit up this season.

Regardless of the process, though, Iona now becomes a stronger team in the MAAC. Few players can replace a Machado, but Sledge will definitely help mitigate the loss. Iona also has Toledo transfer Curtis Dennis, who will be eligible immediately due to his former school’s postseason ineligibility. Dennis averaged 12.7 points as a junior and will play on the perimeter for the Gaels. Tre Bowman, formerly of Penn State, is also eligible immediately, and David Laury will suit up in January.

If Norvel Pelle is actually able to join the team in the winter, Iona could very well repeat as MAAC champion. The Gaels are currently a guard/wing dominated team, but the additions of Laury and possibly Pelle would fortify the frontcourt, making Cluess’ squad a threat to any mid-major.