Northwestern hopes NCAA clears eligibility for 7-2 Sudanese center

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Could Northwestern be on the precipice of landing an outside-the-box, inside-the-paint player?

The Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein reports Chier Ajou, a 7-2 Sudanese skyscraper with raw talent, has given the Wildcats a verbal commitment. Not only that, but Greenstein's sources say Ajou's been cleared for classes at Northwestern.

The next challenge comes from the NCAA, which will have to check into Ajou's past and make sure he's eligible. Ajou's not only notable for his size and background, but also his family. He's a cousin to Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng.

Ajou moved from South Sudan to the U.S. in December 2008, making the early years of his transcript a challenge to interpret.

If he is ineligible as a freshman, he is slated to redshirt.

Before offering its final spot to Ajou, Northwestern tried to get talented guard Mislav Brzoja into school. But despite his earning a 4.0 grade-point average as a senior at Traders Point Christian Academy, he was turned away because of his standardized test score and/or a spotty academic record in his native Croatia.

Ajou gave New Mexico coach Steve Alford an oral commitment in the fall of 2010.

So, a bit of mystery there. Players drop out from verbal commitments to coaches with regularity, but I wonder why the New Mexico plan didn't work out. And will it impact -- or has it impacted -- why Ajou turned to Northwestern?

What we know: If Ajou does clear, he won't be playing until the 2013-14 season, so his impact is far-off, still. But if it does come to pass, well wouldn't that be quite a coup for Bill Carmody? Northwestern doesn't ofter attract real trees, and this recruiting snare could eventually get the Wildcats that coveted first trip to the NCAA tournament, if Ajou's game is able to transform significantly in the coming years.

All of this being hypothetical at the moment. The NCAA's decisions can be dicey, foggy and controversial when it comes to who it clears and who it doesn't. A timetable for the NCAA's decision is not known.

Ajou played a grad-school year at St. Thomas More last season, the same Oakdale, Conn., school as one-and-done UConn big man Andre Drummond.

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