LOUDONVILLE — On more than one occasion during a session with local reporters, Elijah Burns described himself Monday as “super-excited” to join the Siena College men’s basketball program.
“Just want to play,” Burns said. “That’s it.”
If only it were that easy.
In reality, getting Burns to Siena from Notre Dame was the easy part.
Official paperwork cleared Monday from Notre Dame to Siena, documents finalizing that Burns had completed his undergraduate degree in psychology at the former and may practice with the latter going forward after he sat out Monday’s workout. Next, Siena will apply for an NCAA waiver to see if Burns, a Troy native who announced last month he was transferring to Siena, can play this season for the Saints.
And that is where things get complicated.
Burns is a graduate transfer, a designation that generally allows a player who has completed an undergraduate degree to play immediately at a new school. That is the rule former University at Albany men’s basketball members Joe Cremo and David Nichols each took advantage of last spring, heading to Villanova and Florida State, respectively.
Cremo and Nichols, though, were offseason transfers. Burns played in four games this season for Notre Dame, and the NCAA has a rule — under Article 14 of the hundreds-of-pages-long NCAA Division I manual, it’s bylaw 126.96.36.199 — that prohibits players from competing for two programs within one season.
It is believed that no player has ever played for multiple Division I men’s basketball programs within the same season, but Siena will seek an NCAA waiver in hopes of allowing Burns to become the first.
Siena head coach Jamion Christian smiled when asked to describe his confidence level related to if Burns, a 6-foot-8 redshirt junior, will be able to play this season for Siena.
“Um, you know, we’ll see,” said Christian, whose team plays 7 p.m. Tuesday against Charleston at Times Union Center. “I mean, the NCAA does their thing. So I know Notre Dame is going to be really supportive. They’ve got a supportive community there and Mike Brey is an amazing coach there, and he really believes in Elijah and wants Elijah to have this opportunity . . . and we really want him to have the opportunity here, as well. So there is a lot of people on the collegiate level that really want that opportunity [for Burns]. At some point, when that waiver goes up to the NCAA and they have to then make a decision on that, you know, hopefully they look into the heart of Elijah, [see] the things he’s been able to do at Notre Dame and really look at what an impact he made there — and hopefully they see he can make that same impact here for us and that he can do it this year.”
Burns played high school basketball at La Salle Institute before headed to New Jersey’s Blair Academy. He played in parts of three seasons for Notre Dame, and Burns will be eligible for the 2019-20 season regardless of if he is granted an NCAA waiver to play this season.
Siena freshman Jalen Pickett said the rest of the Saints won’t let Burns’ status affect their focus as MAAC play nears.
“I don’t think it will be tough on us,” Pickett said. “We would love to have him whenever we can, but we haven’t had him so far, so we just got to keep learning and improving every day.”
Burns said the waiting won’t bother him, either. If the NCAA elects not to allow him to play the rest of this season, he will have “no regrets at all” about leaving Notre Dame for Siena during the season.
“If it happens,” Burns said of receiving a waiver allowing him to play, “it happens.”
If Burns cannot play, Christian said he still views Burns as someone capable of making an immediate impact for the Saints on the practice floor and in the locker room. The success Burns was around at Notre Dame, Christian said, makes him an ideal leader for the rebuilding Saints.
“We’re excited about having a personality like that,” Christian said.
FISHER IN, FRIDAY OUT
Christian said senior Evan Fisher will return to the Siena lineup against Charleston after missing the team’s last two games with an injury, but that junior Sammy Friday “is going to be out for a bit.”
Without going into details of Friday’s lower-body injury, which was suffered in Siena’s loss to St. Bonaventure, Christian said “it’s possible” Friday could miss substantial time, and that Siena expects to know a timeline for Friday’s return later this week.
“We’ve got to do a great job of loving him up right now,” Christian said.