Off-season workout costly to Jackets

NORTH AUGUSTA --- The North Augusta High boys basketball team has been banned from preseason and postseason play and nine players were ruled ineligible for the 2008-09 season by the South Carolina High School League.

The players, all juniors, participated in what the league termed an illegal off-season workout in the presence of a North Augusta assistant coach, principal Kyle Smith said Friday. He declined to release players' names.

On April 11, the nine Yellow Jackets juniors -- plus two seniors and a Silver Bluff player -- participated in a workout for star forward Bryan Narcisse at Paul Knox Middle, Smith said. The workout was at the request of an assistant coach from Clemson University, which was interested in signing Narcisse after he reneged on his commitment to Western Kentucky on April 8.

"The problem with it is that it's during the off-season and we (North Augusta) also had an assistant coach that was present," Smith said. "While we were doing something to help the kid get a scholarship, we were also violating South Carolina High School League rules."

The league sent a letter to North Augusta High last week informing officials that the workout violated league rules, he said.

The ruling only affects the juniors remaining eligibility. The school also has been fined $500.

Smith said the violation was inadvertent and the school has appealed to the league to get its players reinstated. The players participated to help a friend earn a scholarship, Smith said, and neither the players nor the Jackets coach were aware of a violation.

"I don't think it was any intent to cheat, it was an intent to help a kid," Smith said. "But at the same time, they broke high school league rules."

The team also will argue for reinstatement to pre- and postseason play.

The appeal is expected to be heard in July.

Smith said he hopes the players will be reinstated. The school's fight to overturn the ruling on preseason tournaments and postseason play will be "more difficult," he said.

"We'll abide by the high school league because we respect the high school league, but at the same time we feel like it was an error," he said, adding that the players should not be made to suffer.

Narcisse signed a letter of intent to play for Clemson on April 16. The Jackets had their best season in recent memory (21-5, 10-0 Region 4-AAAA) last season, winning the Region 4-AAAA title and three playoff games before falling in the state quarterfinals.

Reach J. Scott Trubey at (706) 823-3424 or scott.trubey@augustachronicle.com.

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