Texas Tech basketball: NCAA denies final waiver appeal for Joel Ntambwe

Thursday, we learned that forward Joel Ntambwe will not play this season for the Texas Tech basketball team after he was denied an eligibility waiver for the final time by the NCAA.

The Joel Ntambwe saga is officially over.  Unfortunately for Texas Tech basketball fans, it didn’t end the way we were hoping.

Thursday, Texas Tech and Ntambwe had a final opportunity to make a case for the sophomore transfer’s immediate eligibility but an NCAA panel ruled that he will not be eligible this season.  That is a frustrating decision given that he is the only one of five players that left UNLV after last offseason’s coaching change to not be granted immediate eligibility this year.

This was at least the third time that Texas Tech took its case to the NCAA since November but most believe that UNLV bitterness over Chris Beard and his decision to leave Vegas for Tech after two weeks on the job back in 2016 has led to the administrators at that school pulling out all stops to stand in the way of Ntambwe’s waiver.

Tambwe took to Twitter to share the unfortunate news but vowed to be ready to go next season.

“I am very disappointed with the outcome that the NCAA has made but I respect their decision,” he wrote.  “This outcome does not define me.  I will continue to be a great student-athlete here at Texas Tech and I will be ready to hit the court during the 2020-21 season.”

Of course, the 2019-20 season is still the primary focus of Texas Tech basketball fans.  And Tambwe could have been a tremendous help.

At 6-foot-8, he would have given this year’s team much-needed scoring, rebounding, and defense inside where Tech has struggled at times.  However, the fact that the Red Raiders are coming off an 89-81 victory over West Virginia on Wednesday night helps soften the blow of this news.

Despite being considerably outsized in the post by the Mountaineers, who feature two 6-foot-10 starting forwards and two more players at least 6-foot-8, Tech won the rebounding battle Wednesday night by nine boards and saw senior forward T.J. Holyfield play the type of game that suggests he can be a positive factor down low moving forward.

The 6-foot-8 senior, Tech’s only true post presence this year, had 11 points and five rebounds while blocking four shots.  Now that we know Ntambwe won’t be an option this year, that type of effort is what the Red Raiders need on a more consistent basis from the grad transfer.

We will also likely continue to see 7-foot freshman Russell Tchewa in spurts the rest of the way, especially against bigger teams like WVU and Kansas.  After a promising five-minute run against Kentucky two games ago, he’s started to earn some opportunities in meaningful situations.

Still, this team desperately wanted to add Ntambwe to the mix this year.  His presence would have been a huge boost on both ends of the floor.

Last season, he scored 11.8 points per game and pulled down 5.5 rebounds as a true freshman.  He was also a 38.8% 3-point shooter who made 44 attempts from behind the arc.

But we will have to wait until next November to see him represent the Double-T.  Until then, there is a ton of basketball to be played and it will be up to the players currently in the rotation to handle their business the way they did against the Mountaineers Wednesday night.