The 24 year-old Orlando Sanchez from the Dominican Republic was considered one of the centerpieces of Steve Lavin's 2012 recruiting class after playing two seasons at JUCO Monroe College. He committed to St. John's alongside Monroe teammate Marc-Antoine Bourgault in April.
Since he was first sidelined for eligibility concerns when St. John's played its exhibition opener on November 3rd, Sanchez still has not played a single minute for the Red Storm.
Weeks ago, SNY's Adam Zagoria wrote that Sanchez was ruled ineligible by the NCAA in November and not likely to play for St. John's, due to his age and eligibility reasons.
Uncertainties surrounding Sanchez's eligibility year regarded his age, as he sought to become a first-year Division I athlete at 24.
Indications are that the NCAA's gripe could also involve questions about compensation in the time the forward spent between high school and junior college. It may be because he played at least one year - and possibly three - in southeastern Spain with the club in Hellin before coming to America, according to online records.
St. John's continues to appeal on his behalf, but the NCAA ruled Sanchez ineligible earlier in the year; the Red Storm likely don't expect him to suit up in red and white.
It is unknown whether Sanchez was monetarily compensated for his play with Hellin, a fourth-tier Spanish club, and/or if he spent much of his time with their junior team. It is believed that most (if not all) of the players in Hellin's league, Liga EBA, are compensated in some fashion, whether as a stipend or a salary.
But there is evidence that, in 2008-09, he was with the club in some capacity at age 20, and according to this article (which also explains where he got the dunk that brought down the house at Red Storm Tip-Off), as early as age sixteen.
Earlier NCAA rulings have allowed players who have spent time with professional teams to play after sitting out games; playing alongside professionals is not a full barrier to NCAA competition.
And the level of scrutiny on the Junior College level - where Sanchez was eligible for two years of competition - may be less than that on the Division I level.
In discussing the case of a Washington State enrollee Jeff Varem, the Cougars' compliance director Jim Serra stated that "Jeff was able to play right away at the junior college... That leads me to believe there isn’t the same interest in what... [international athletes] did prior to coming to America."
Former West Virginia forward Deniz Kilicli missed the first 20 games of the 2009-10 season after it was discovered that he had played with at least one professional while with a club team in his home country of Turkey. As ESPN's Andy Katz clarified, the "[former penalty structure] on international players has essentially been [since] replaced with more of a financial-based rule. If a player receives benefits that are more than the necessary expenses, he can be ruled ineligible."
In the better-known Enes Kanter case, the issue wasn't whether Kanter was compensated for playing with room and board - similar to a college scholarship in the NCAA's eyes - but whether he was compensated over and above with salary (the revised rule), or if he had a signed agreement with an adviser. Often, the answer to that question depends on how the NCAA translates "necessary expenses" in Europe to the NCAA's concept of the amateur ideal.
Sanchez chose St. John's over Providence, Cincinnati, and others; obviously, no team thought that Orlando's eligibility would become a season-long issue.
The NCAA also kept Bourgault sidelined for the Johnnies' first two games of the season while the Frenchman's eligibility status was reviewed; Bourgault had been listed on the roster for the Cholet Basket youth team in Cholet, France. When Bourgault was ultimately ruled eligible and joined St. John's in mid-November, his junior college teammate was left in limbo.
On the court, the Red Storm have developed an identity without the Dominican forward, no longer expecting him to stabilize the team's interior play. As it stands, Sanchez looks to remain sidelined for the rest of the season.