Badgers’ Dukan grudgingly accepts brief NCAA suspension

Wisconsin fifth-year senior Duje Dukan will soon serve the final two games of a four-game suspension for an NCAA rules infraction dating to the 2012-13 season that he wasn't even aware of until the following season.

Benny Sieu/Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

MADISON, Wis. — If the weight of a potential NCAA suspension was supposed to hang on Duje Dukan’s shoulders this offseason, he never felt it. That’s because Dukan, Wisconsin’s fifth-year senior, had no real reason to suspect a punishment of any kind would be levied against him as he began his final season with the team.

"Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal," Dukan said. "They told me about it at the end of last year that it might be a possibility, that I might be held out a couple contests. But it was never something that I really thought about because you don’t really hear about it too often going on. So I didn’t really focus on that."

Instead, Dukan will begin the 2014-15 campaign on the bench when No. 3 Wisconsin opens its season against Northern Kentucky at 8 p.m. Friday in the Kohl Center. He will serve the final two games of a four-game suspension for an NCAA rules infraction dating to the 2012-13 season that he wasn’t even aware of until the following season.

Dukan spoke Wednesday after practice for the first time since Wisconsin announced the suspension seven days earlier, before the Badgers’ exhibition game against Division II UW-Parkside.

In Oct. 2012, Dukan played in an exhibition and a closed scrimmage before opting to redshirt because of an ongoing battle with mono. Dukan was a junior that season, and only freshmen are allowed to play in preseason games before using a redshirt year. Wisconsin had hoped the NCAA would show leniency on the matter because of Dukan’s physical condition, but instead it upheld the suspension.

Dukan’s punishment under NCAA rules is to sit out two games for every game in which he played, which equates to the four-game suspension. He missed an earlier scrimmage against DePaul this season in addition to the exhibition and will sit out Wisconsin’s first two regular-season games. He will return for the team’s third regular-season game against Green Bay on Nov. 19.

While Wisconsin has prepared the past two weeks, Dukan has spent time exclusively on the scout team during practice, though he’ll move into the playing rotation upon his return. Dukan, a 6-foot-10, 218-pound forward, is expected to make a significant contribution as a top-seven rotation player. A year ago, he appeared in all 38 games and averaged 8.1 minutes, 2.8 points and 1.5 rebounds to help Wisconsin reach the Final Four.

"Obviously it’s frustrating, but I don’t want to get too caught up into it," Dukan said. "I just take my role on scout team as just another opportunity to get better. I’m going up against the first-team guys that I would be playing with, so we’re going against the best defensive team that we have possible in practice. So I’m just trying to get better and get ready for games that are coming forward."

Dukan said he became aware of a potential problem at the start of last season, when school records listed him as a senior. But he also assumed the compliance office would fix the matter, and he maintained hope the NCAA would rule in his favor all the way up until Wisconsin’s exhibition game. He noted that, last season, Michigan forward Mitch McGary underwent back surgery after appearing in eight games and would have been eligible for a medical redshirt before a separate NCAA suspension led him to declare for the NBA Draft. Under NCAA rules, a student-athlete must not have competed in more than 30 percent of a season’s contests to be eligible for a medical redshirt. In Dukan’s case, however, mono was not ruled as an incapacitating illness or injury.

Still, Dukan said he didn’t fully recover from his bout with mono until the middle of February 2013. He lost 15 pounds, dropping from 218 pounds to 203.

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"That’s when I put all the weight that I lost back on," Dukan said. "As far as movement stuff and being able to get back in shape, it probably took me up until then, late February-ish. I don’t think people really understand how bad mono is until you actually have it for yourself. And then having to compete here against guys like this on a daily basis, it’s a grind. And being thrown into the fire right away, that wasn’t something I was ready for right away."

Former Badgers forward Zach Bohannon made Dukan’s case a national story when he defended his ex-teammate in an article posted on last week. Bohannon described the NCAA as the "Minutia Police" and proposed the NCAA get rid of the rule entirely, allowing a player in any year of school to use his redshirt after playing in exhibition games.

"In a program built on seniority, he has faithfully waited his turn to crack the lineup and play meaningful minutes," Bohannon wrote of Dukan. "In the process of not only patiently waiting for that turn, he graduated with a degree in International Studies and is now pursuing a master’s degree. Being a serious student and dedicated teammate should serve as a model for collegiate athletics. Instead, the NCAA has punished him, and it’s the type of thing that makes you wonder if the NCAA is truly ‘dedicated to safeguarding the well-being of student-athletes,’ as the NCAA insists it is."

Bohannon also was one of the first to begin using the Twitter hashtag #FreeDuje, which quickly latched on with Badgers fans and even a few current Wisconsin players, including Frank Kaminsky, Zak Showalter and Nigel Hayes.

"It’s an unfortunate rule and I think, quite frankly, it’s really stupid," Kaminsky said Wednesday. "At the end of the day, it’s two games. He’ll be back before we get into the meat of things, which I’m sure he’s happy (about). I’m just glad it’s not any more games than it is."

Added Badgers guard Josh Gasser: "It’s definitely a weird situation, a weird ruling that I don’t really know if anyone agrees with it. But that’s the way it is. You’ve just got to feel bad for Duje."

Dukan said he appreciated the support from Bohannan and his current teammates and was simply glad the punishment was not more severe. Wisconsin plays its first two regular-season games in the span of less than 48 hours. And then, Dukan can put the entire mess behind him.

"That was one thing I thought about, if we had a Friday game and I had to wait until Friday the next week, it would have been brutal," Dukan said. "But we get it done within three days, so it’s not the end of the world."

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