ALBANY — Always was a long shot, and Elijah Burns knew that.
So the Siena College men’s basketball redshirt junior took the news in stride that the program’s attempt to obtain an NCAA waiver to allow him to play the rest of this season after his midseason transfer from Notre Dame had been denied.
“That’s kind of been my mindset the whole way because I wasn’t too [optimistic] on that it would be approved,” Burns said Friday before the Saints practiced at Times Union Center. “So every day I’ve gone to practice trying to help these guys get better, share my knowledge, and push them to the limits and try to help them the best I can.”
Burns’ coach was more disappointed in the NCAA’s decision not to allow the Troy native to play this season for the Saints after he played in four games earlier this season at Notre Dame. Siena head coach Jamion Christian called the rule “outdated” that Siena had sought a waiver around, and said Burns — a graduate transfer — should have been immediately ruled eligible.
“Now,” Christian said, “the NCAA is basically saying he has to sit another half a year, so he’s going to miss another 20 games. I just think that’s really unfair. You’re looking at a guy who didn’t have an opportunity to perform in 60 to 70 games in his [Notre Dame] career — that’s over half of someone’s career — and I just felt like with his story, him having a chance to come home with Notre Dame’s full support, that he was a guy that was really deserving of that opportunity. My heart breaks for him because he’s done everything at Notre Dame — he’s done everything in his time here — to just be an outstanding person and outstanding citizen. I felt like he deserved the opportunity to be able to get out there with us this season.”
Burns was seeking to become the first Division I men’s basketball player to ever play for two programs within one season. The NCAA has a rule against allowing that to happen, but it had not been previously tested by a graduate transfer. Siena will appeal the NCAA’s waiver denial, but there is no timeline for the NCAA’s response to that appeal.
“I’m just going to work every day and when I hear back, I hear back,” Burns said. “I just want to get better every day.”
Burns remains on track to be eligible for the Saints for the full 2019-20 season. Christian said Burns will make a meaningful impact this season on the practice floor for the Saints.
“He’s just got great energy every day,” Christian said. “His energy is just really special. It’s infectious. It makes our team better.”
Siena lost more than a game Thursday at Saint Peter’s.
Redshirt freshman Jimmy Ratliff fractured his left pinky finger in the loss and will miss the next four to six weeks of action.
In recent games, Ratliff had served as Siena’s first reserve. On the season, Ratliff is averaging 4.3 points in 20.5 minutes per game.
Saturday’s 7 p.m. MAAC home opener against Canisius doubles as Siena’s annual food drive to benefit the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.
Siena partners with Hannaford Supermarkets for the food drive, which offers the chance for fans at Saturday’s game to trade three non-perishable food items for a voucher for two free tickets to a future home game. Donations will be accepted at Saturday’s game outside sections 104 and 105 through the start of the second half.
Christian urged Siena supporters to do more than donate food items.
“I hope that every one of our fans makes a monetary donation of at least a dollar toward the food bank,” Christian said.