The worst fears of JaRon Rush and UCLA's basketball team came true Tuesday when the NCAA gave the sophomore forward what amounts to a 1 1/2-season suspension for improper relationships with a Los Angeles agent and a former summer league coach in Kansas City, Mo.
The Bruins, as expected, said they would appeal but also conceded that Rush has no chance of playing again this season. The best they can hope for, apparently, is that he will be allowed to return sometime before the midpoint of next season, the timeline under the current discipline.
UCLA, having sensed that the NCAA might use the Rush case to make a statement, was braced for bad news but was jolted anyway when word arrived from the governing body late Monday afternoon. School officials asked for a clarification on some issues, got that Tuesday morning, then announced the penalties:
* A 15-game suspension and a $200 fine for taking that amount of money from agent Jerome Stanley, meaning the NCAA accepted Rush's admission of guilt in that area and did not believe Stanley's denial.
Rush has already missed 15 games since he was suspended by UCLA on Dec. 10, at the start of an internal investigation, so it counts as time served. The $200 will be given by Rush to a charity of the school's choice.
"He can't repay me, because I never gave him any money at all," Stanley said.
* A 29-game suspension--the equivalent of a full season--and a $6,125 fine for accepting benefits from his former summer league coach, Myron Piggie.
That breaks down to the final 12 scheduled games of this season and the first 17 of 2000-01, but the second number will drop by one for every postseason game the Bruins have this spring.
The $6,125, which also will go to charity, is determined to have been the amount that Rush illegally received in money, apparel or transportation from Piggie.
UCLA agreed with the NCAA's determination that Rush took the money from Stanley--Rush has also publicly acknowledged it--and will not appeal that finding.
Stanley, meanwhile, insisted, "I gave JaRon Rush nothing of value. I didn't give him any money whatsoever. I know it and JaRon knows it. I suspect when things blow over, he will tell the truth about what happened."
UCLA does not, however, agree with the rulings on the Piggie matter, calling the penalty unfair. The school maintains that Rush, as a high school player, could not have been expected to understand which of the benefits were allowable as part of a traveling summer league team and which came from Piggie and a friend also involved in the Kansas City Amateur Athletic Union team, Tom Grant.
The Bruins had been putting together an appeal on that aspect, even before learning of the NCAA discipline, which went beyond their figuring.
"I was really surprised at the severity," Athletic Director Pete Dalis said.
About 75 players in the last five years have lost at least one season to NCAA-imposed penalties or were not reinstated at all, an official at the organization's Indianapolis headquarters said. But the governing body gave little insight into how it decided on such a severe penalty that, at its current status, will limit Rush to about 15 games over two seasons.
"We're really not permitted to discuss the specifics of individual cases," said Jane Jankowski, the NCAA public information coordinator. "The only place I could go with that is to say that the reinstatement panel looks at the severity of the violation."
Asked if the NCAA considered the actions of Rush to be grossly outside the rules, she said, "I'm not going to characterize."
What remains for UCLA is to try to get some games back for Rush for next season through the five-person Subcommittee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement, a process that figures to be conducted next week by conference call.
Rush had returned home to Kansas City on Monday, after getting word of an impending announcement, but the school was challenging some of the findings on his behalf, all related to Piggie and Grant.
"I think the NCAA is just setting the bar high because they're concerned about other cases that might come out of the AAU situation," Dalis said.
And the Bruins' chances of a reduction?
"I don't want to speculate," Dalis said. "I was wrong with the length of the penalty."
In a similar case several years ago, USC football player Shawn Walters was ruled ineligible by the NCAA after he was found to have accepted $16,000 from an agent. USC appealed, and Walters was reinstated after missing 12 games.
A related basketball case already has resulted in a successful appeal. Kareem Rush, JaRon's younger brother and a freshman at Missouri, had his suspension cut from 14 games to nine for violations also connected to Piggie. Oklahoma State's Andre Williams, who played on the same AAU team, was suspended for five games because of improper dealings with Grant.
JaRon Rush will continue to practice with the Bruins after returning from Kansas City. The Bruins hope that the continued contact with the team will help keep him focused on playing next season, rather than leaving early for a try at the pros.
NCAA's ruling on UCLA sophomore JaRon Rush:
* Suspension from half of UCLA's regular-season games (15) and repayment of $200 for receiving that same amount from a sports agent during the 1998-99 school year.*
* Suspension for the equivalent of one full schedule of regular-season games (29), plus repayment of $6,125 for the value of benefits he allegedly received from summer league coach Myron Piggie.
* Rush has sat out 15 games since suspension by UCLA.