Nate Strong of tiny Tenakee Springs is transferring from Montana State-Billings to Biola University so he'll have an opportunity to play more college basketball.
Strong, a 26-year-old 6-foot-4 forward who was among the Yellowjackets' leading scorers and rebounders, was ruled ineligible last year when it was discovered he had attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks for three semesters in 1992-93, even though he didn't play basketball.
Strong, an education major who will be a junior this fall, was told there were no records of his UAF transcripts before he started attending Skagit Valley Junior College (Mount Vernon, Wash.) two years ago and again last year when he transferred to MSU-Billings. He said he tried several times to get the records, and even had his brother (a UAF student) try to get the records only to be told there weren't any for a Nathan Strong.
With no transcripts available, the records weren't declared when he entered MSU-Billings. Then, as both MSU-Billings and UAF were driving for the playoffs in the Pacific West Conference last spring, UAF made the transcripts available and MSU-Billings ruled Strong for the last game of the 1999-2000 season and the first six games of the 2000-2001 season.
The NCAA has a rule - called the 4-2-4 rule - that stipulates that a student-athlete who begins classes at a four-year institution and then transfers to a two-year institution must earn an associate degree or sit out a full year before attending a different four-year university. The only way a student-athlete who didn't earn an associate degree can avoid having to sit out a year is by returning to the original four-year university. The day the UAF transcripts became available, Skagit Valley awarded Strong an associate degree, but it was too late.
The NCAA subsequently declared that Strong must sit out the first 25 games of the 2000-2001 season, a higher penalty than the one MSU-Billings gave Strong when it self-reported the violation. The Yellowjackets are scheduled to play 27 games this year. Because of the credits he's accumulated, Strong would also have to sit out the upcoming fall semester at MSU-B.
``It would be selfish on our part to ask him to stay,'' MSU-Billings coach Craig Carse told the Billings Gazette. ``He's played two years of organized basketball (Skagit and MSU-B). This gives him a chance to play almost two full seasons.''
Tenakee Springs, on Chicagof Island southwest of Juneau, is so small (population 93) that Strong wasn't able to play high school basketball. The only other boy in the school was his brother. Strong did play for the Hoonah Totems in the 1998 Gold Medal Tournament, leading Hoonah to second place in the Mighty B Bracket by scoring 53 points and grabbing 24 rebounds in a 93-91 championship game loss to the Haines Merchants.
Biola is an NAIA program in southern California. Strong could attend classes part-time this fall and practice with the team. He would be able to play second semester and all of the following season. The NAIA doesn't have the 4-2-4 rule. Juneau's Josh Lockhart was a senior starting guard for Biola last year, helping the Eagles reach the NAIA Final Four.
Strong averaged 21 points and six rebounds a game this past year for the Yellowjackets. He had games of 37 and 41 points against UA Anchorage and UAF, respectively, this season at MSU-Billings' Alterowitz Gymnasium. Strong was second on the team for scoring, 3-pointers and rebounding. He led the team in free throws made and attempted.