As new coach Ryan Odom’s made-from-scratch VCU basketball roster solidifies, the Rams continue to add players with international ties and even experience playing overseas.
Utah State transfers Sean Bairstow and Max Shulga are Australian and Ukrainian, respectively. Shulga has played for Ukraine at the FIBA U20 European Championships. Bairstow was previously a member of the U19 Australian national team.
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The recently committed Michael Belle, a 6-foot-7 wing who will be an incoming freshman, is English and has played professionally at the U21 level with SIG Strasbourg in France.
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And for weeks, talk of an additional international recruit have abounded, with those conversations centered on 19-year-old 6-6 guard Jacob Patrick, currently playing in the playoffs for German professional club MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg.
Patrick tallied 2 rebounds and an assist in 17 minutes of action in his team’s 90-80 playoff victory over EWE Baskets Oldenburg on Tuesday, the first game of a best-of-five series.
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Game two is Thursday, with game three set for Sunday. When asked about Patrick’s media availability, MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg press contact Philipp Kraft said Patrick can be made available to discuss his future after the conclusion of Ludwigsburg’s postseason, as head coach Josh King wants his players focused on the task at hand.
Kraft said that Patrick will not make an official decision about his future until after the season concludes.
Ludwigsburg finished fifth in the regular-season standings of the 18-team Basketball Bundesliga, the highest level of professional basketball in Germany. The series between Ludwigsburg and Oldenburg is the league’s quarterfinal stage.
The NCAA stated in a December 2022 report that 16% of all Division I men’s basketball players are international students.
An international basketball migration report published by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) last year reported that there were 785 international players in Division I men’s college basketball for the 2021-22 season.
That number has increased steadily during the past 10 years, compared to 406 D-I international players in the 2009-10 season. So the trend of VCU becoming more international mirrors that of NCAA Division I men’s hoops as a whole, and the same is true on the women’s side.
The Rams’ 2022-23 women’s roster had five players from Canada, plus a single player each of Turkish, Australian, Nigerian and Lithuanian nationality.
Odom said at his introductory press conference that he planned on his VCU teams having a “free-flowing, NBA, European style of play.”
So between playing for their countries or playing professionally overseas, a question has proliferated for the VCU fan base amid Odom’s wide-reaching recruitment: How does playing overseas affect the eligibility of potential college prospects?
For starters, playing for one’s country does not preclude college eligibility. So Shulga and Bairstow’s international experience is shared by plenty of college hoopers.
The youth levels of FIBA competition are increasingly popular recruiting hotbeds for NCAA coaching staffs as international prospects become more attuned to the process of making the jump to play college ball in the United States, and exposure becomes more readily available in the age of social media.
Playing professionally, like Belle and Patrick have, comes with a key rule. In order to maintain NCAA eligibility, they can’t sign a pro contract that pays them more than it costs to be on the team.
The money they receive from their pro clubs cannot exceed “actual and necessary expenses.”
“Prospective student-athletes may accept compensation from their club team while in high school, provided payments do not exceed costs for the individual to participate on the team,” reads the NCAA eligibility center’s professional payment flyer.
“However, after full-time enrollment at a collegiate institution, student-athletes may not play on or accept compensation or expenses of any kind from a professional team.”
The NCAA classifies “actual and necessary expenses” as meals, lodging, apparel, equipment and supplies, coaching and instruction, health and medical insurance, transportation, medical treatment and physical therapy, facility usage, entry fees and “other reasonable expenses.”
Further stipulations regarding things like “fair market value” and expenses directly related to competition apply. The Eligibility Center requires a fair amount or reporting from prospective student-athletes in order to certify compliance.
Athletes must present a copy of all documents they and or their parents signed with the club regarding participation. They have to report the amount they were paid and in what currency it was received, plus a list of all expenses the club covered and another list of all out-of-pocket expenses tied to participation on the team.
But so long as the payments from their team don’t exceed the expenses of competing for and being a member of the club, they are eligible to play college basketball.
PHOTOS: VCU announces their new men’s basketball head coach, Ryan Odom.