Nevada Las Vegas star J.R. Rider was suspended from the team Tuesday after university officials learned that he had turned in an English paper that was partly the work of a school tutor.
The suspension puts a premature end to the college career of Rider, a senior forward who was the No. 2 scorer in the nation this season.
UNLV, which failed to land an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament after losing five of its last 10 games, will play USC in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament tonight in Las Vegas.
Rider was suspended by UNLV Athletic Director Jim Weaver after a school tutor came forward to confirm that the tutor had done work for the player last year in an English correspondence course taught through the Community College of Southern Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base branch.
The passing grade in the three-unit course reportedly put Rider above the 24-unit annual minimum required by NCAA rules.
UNLV Coach Rollie Massimino, who took over the Rebel program after Jerry Tarkanian's resignation last year, said he supported the decision to suspend Rider. "The decision was made on the part of our director of athletics," Massimino said at a news conference, "and it was done because it was decided (Rider) might have gotten excessive assistance on one paper."
Rider's academic status became a subject of controversy last Thursday when the Las Vegas Review-Journal quoted Vicki Bertolino, a former teacher for the Community College of Southern Nevada, as saying she had been pressed by two UNLV officials to give Rider a passing grade in the correspondence course.
Bertolino said she gave Rider a "C-" in the course, but should have given him a failing grade.
The Review-Journal also reported that Bertolino had written notes on two papers submitted by Rider questioning whether the player had actually done the work. The newspaper reported that Rider's first name, Isaiah, was incorrectly spelled on at least three papers he turned in.
School officials, reacting to the story, said they could find no evidence that UNLV personnel had acted improperly.
Further investigation of the matter, resulting from a story in Sunday's Review-Journal, led to Rider's suspension, however.
The Sunday article showed that one page of a paper turned in by Rider as part of the correspondence course contained handwriting that was not that of the player.
The tutor who helped Rider in the course later came forward and acknowledged writing part of the paper, according to a source familiar with the school's inquiry. The University of Nevada System has stated that it will investigate Rider's work in the correspondence course as well as his enrollment last spring in a course at UNLV called Prevention and Management of Premenstrual Syndrome.
The Review-Journal reported that Rider received a satisfactory grade in the course despite the fact that the Rebels had road games when two of the class' three four-hour sessions were scheduled to meet. At Tuesday's news conference, UNLV President Robert Maxson announced that he will ask the Northwest Accrediting Association, a regional group, to oversee the university's investigation.
The situation is a particularly sensitive one for Maxson because he hired Massimino in part on the basis of the coach's reputation for stressing academics.
However, Weaver reiterated Tuesday that he believes no member of the UNLV basketball staff violated NCAA or university rules.
USC OPENS: The Trojans will play at Nevada Las Vegas tonight in the National Invitation Tournament. C4