Storm men’s basketball team loses title and all victories
By Emily Sisk – Photos by David Hallett
No banner will be hung.
Two weeks ago, the Chemeketa men’s basketball team secured the Northwest Athletic Conference south regional title with one game left in the regular season.
On Thursday, Feb. 26, everything changed.
That morning, Chemeketa’s athletic department was notified by NWAC officials of a possible rule violation that had occurred in the program.
Athletic Director Cassie Belmodis was at a regional NWAC meeting when the news was delivered.
She said that coach David Abderhalden “began the fact-finding, getting information, and having conversations with people. We did indeed find out that we had a student athlete whose amateurism status was in question.”
Abderhalden discovered that first-year Keith Bowen Jr., the Storm’s top scorer and an NWAC leader in steals, had played briefly in a league in his home state of Nevada before being recruited for the team.
Bowen played three years ago on the Las Vegas Defenders, part of the American Basketball Association.
When Belmodis returned, she and Abderhalden spoke to Bowen, and he confirmed their findings.
“He was very forthcoming and cooperative,” Belmodis said.
According to NWAC regulations, players cannot have played for money, nor can they have made an agreement to receive money.
Although Bowen was never paid, NWAC officials ruled that he did violate the rules.
“He was promised money,” Belmodis said.
Abderhalden said he was unfamiliar with the second half of the rule.
“I was not aware that that was a piece of it. Usually if you get paid, you’ve signed a contract, you’re a professional. So by hearing that he had not been paid, I made the assumption at that point that we were in good shape,” he said.
College officials also defended Bowen.
“Keith answered all the questions as they were asked, and he was honest through the recruiting process. If there’s blame to be had anywhere, it would be with me not understanding the rule the way that I should have understood it,” Abderhalden said.
Belmodis said, “It was an oversight. We really thought we had our bases cleared.”
NWAC’s executive director, Marco Azurdia, outlined the nature of the violations in a telephone interview last week.
“The player was deemed ineligible because his amateur status was invalidated,” he said.
Chemeketa officials contacted NWAC to go over what they had learned in the aftermath of being notified of the issue and then waited for the league to rule.
NWAC made its decision on Friday, Feb. 27. Chemeketa was no longer the league’s title holder, and there would be no chance for a championship run.
“The ruling that was made was that the team would then forfeit their wins and no longer be entering the tournament,” Belmodis said.
Each game that Bowen played was ruled a forfeit. That brought the Storm’s season record from 22-6 to 0-28.
“Abderhalden said, “We were all in shock and disbelief; 48 hours before, we were coming off a pretty big high of winning the league title, going into the tournament as the No. 1 seed, and having had a great season to that point.”
For Bowen, the ruling was especially damaging. Not having an amateur status means that he is unable to play in the NWAC, and possibly unable to play any college basketball.
On Friday afternoon, Abderhalden had the difficult task of telling his players that their championship hopes were over.
“I’ve been extremely proud of how these guys have handled themselves since finding out,” he said.
“It’s another moment for these guys to understand that things don’t always go right, but it’s how you handle the situation and the character that you show in this.”
The Storm tested that character on Saturday when the team played its final game of the season, a day after learning that the run was over.
Although they lost 101-99, Chemeketa’s players were able to show their determination and grit by forcing an overtime period after trailing in the first half.
While NWACC officials changed the results of Chemeketa’s games to loss by forfeit on Feb. 27, they did not make any statement explaining the forfeits until 10:35 a.m. on March 2. The explanation was made through the league’s Twitter account after users expressed confusion over the new results.
The intent wasn’t to withhold information, Azurdia said.
“There was no reason for the delay. We wanted to notify all the teams in the conference and didn’t think that we needed to notify people on social media,” he said.
On Tuesday, March 3, Chemeketa uncovered new information that officials hoped would overturn or at least lessen the consequences leveled against the team and Bowen in the league ruling.
While Bowen played for the Defenders, the team neglected to pay the necessary $50,000 to officially register with the ABA. That could have meant that his amateur status was never invalidated.
Azurdia and the league did not agree, however, and opted to stay with their original ruling.
The league has not disclosed who the original information came from or when it was given to them. Azurdia did say that the tip was reported to the league’s compliance manager, Jim Jackson.
Jackson was later reached via email, but he refused to divulge specifics.
“It came from outside of the NWAC and surfaced, unfortunately, at the end of the season because the individual who knew the young man’s past had only recently been back in the area,” he said.
Whenever the tip was given, it occurred near the end of the regular season with the Storm firmly out in front in their region.
Any kind of malicious intent is highly unlikely, Azurdia said.
“My sense is that they didn’t know early in the season and that this is not a result of Chemeketa being No. 1,” he said
“There isn’t any indication that that has happened.”
Chemeketa officials believe this is the first rules violation that has ever occurred in the program.
Violations are extremely rare throughout the NWAC in general.
“It just doesn’t happen, not in this magnitude,” Azurdia said.
Sources inside the NWAC office have expressed their complete confidence in both Belmodis’ and Abderhalden’s handling of their department and players. This could bode well for Chemeketa if officials decide to appeal the ruling, which Belmodis said they are now looking into.
Abderhalden also is counseling Bowen on a possible personal appeal that could result in a return to the Storm. College officials also are seeking out other playing options for him.
“We’ll sit down and look at all the rules for the different levels because as we have found out, each different organization has its own set of rules on amateurism,” Abderhalden said.
Chemeketa officials are still awaiting a final NWAC ruling. Because of the post-season tournament, the league has only partially ruled on the violations, citing timing issues and general lack of staff.
“We’re still looking into the matter and possible further sanctions,” Azurdia said.
For now, the men’s basketball program has shifted its focus from athletics and back to what’s most important to them as men, Abderhalden said.
“All we can control is how we approach going forward. We’ll still be people committed to being the best that we can be, and having great character, and trusting in each other that we’re going to be fine,” he said.