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Monday, November 11, 2002
Mississippi State hopes issue is solved this week

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

Mississippi State forward Mario Austin is being held out of games pending an academic transcript issue, sources close to the situation told ESPN.com.

Austin, a Wooden Award candidate and one of a handful of SEC player of the year favorites, didn't play in Saturday's exhibition game and is questionable for the second exhibition game Thursday against the Harlem Globetrotters. Austin is being allowed to practice.

The Bulldogs, ranked No. 13 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, open the season against Louisiana-Lafayette Nov. 23.

The 6-9, 255-pound junior averaged 16.1 points and 7.6 rebounds a year ago during the regular season and was the MVP in the SEC tournament.

Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger: "Hopefully it will be resolved by (Thursday). There's an issue we will discuss at a later date when we have some more facts. We wanted to be cautious on all sides."

Mississippi State officials wouldn't comment when contacted by ESPN.com Monday.

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury was unavailable for comment Monday but told the newspaper: "With Mario, it was a game-time decision. We made a decision to hold him out until we get an issue cleared up. We found out at 5 o'clock (Saturday) afternoon about this. It has nothing to do with (an NCAA investigation). It is an issue that we have to clear up. I'm going to leave it at that."

But multiple NCAA sources confirmed that Austin was interviewed in September when investigators were on campus to conduct interviews on the football program. The NCAA was interested in whether Austin entered into an agreement with an agent last spring and wanted to know about his whereabouts during the three weeks that he was off campus in April.

Austin declared for the NBA draft in April, left school for three weeks and then returned to campus once he withdrew from the draft. He was then deemed eligible for the season even though he was not in class for three weeks.

Austin has flirted with the NBA for years, originally announcing that he would declare for the draft out of high school, then saying he was going to Mississippi State and then going to the draft and then going to Starkville again.

Austin is considered a first-round pick by NBA scouts. He could still play his way out of the first round, however, if he had a poor season.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.