RALEIGH — Before each of NC State’s first three games this season, new coach Kevin Keatts told his team’s equipment manager to bring Braxton Beverly’s uniform to the arena along with everyone else’s.
Just in case.
Beverly, whose eligibility was initially denied by the NCAA because he enrolled in two classes at Ohio State this summer, didn’t get to play in either of the Wolfpack’s first two wins last week. Tuesday, however, Keatts’ foresight paid off when the governing body of college athletics reversed its decision and cleared Beverly to play just two hours before State’s 95-72 victory against Bryant.
Beverly received a rousing ovation from the crowd of 10,472 at PNC Arena when he made his first appearance at the 13:51 mark of the first half.
While his performance didn’t live up to the moment on the way to an admittedly nervous 1-for-7 shooting performance, the game still ended up being one of the most memorable in the 6-foot point guard’s young basketball career.
“I was very excited,” Beverly said afterward. “The first two games here, I saw signs and posters and everybody yelling ‘Free Braxton,’ and I’m free. It was a great feeling playing for a great fan base, finally playing in college.”
Beverly originally committed to attend Ohio State after playing his final two high school seasons at Hargrave Military Academy under current State assistant A.W. Hamilton. He changed his mind and signed with the Wolfpack instead after his coach with the Buckeyes, Thad Matta, abruptly retired in June.
Even though Beverly never played a game at Ohio State, he was ruled to be a transfer by the NCAA and required to sit out for a year because he attended those two classes in Columbus. He appealed the decision and despite letters of support from Matta and Ohio State’s administration, his request for a waiver of transfer rules was denied.
Despite the disappointments, Beverly, his family and NC State never gave up.
They hired a lawyer and asked the NCAA to reconsider its ruling, which it did Tuesday at approximately 5 p.m.
According to a statement issued by the NCAA on Tuesday, the decision to reconsider Beverly’s case and grant his transfer waiver was “based on additional information.” No indication was given as to what that additional information might have been.
Not that it matters anymore.
“We’re just grateful that it happened,” Keatts said.
“Obviously this young man has worked extremely hard. … What a great kid. He deserved it. I really appreciate the NCAA taking another look at it and giving him this opportunity.”
Because the news came so close to game time, Keatts said he briefly considered holding Beverly out one more game to give him more time to prepare. He had spent the past few days playing the role of Bryant’s point guard on the Wolfpack’s scout team.
In the end, though, the first-year coach decided that his young player had been through enough and sent him right out onto the court to get his feet wet.
“I got a call from our compliance department that said Braxton would be eligible,” Keatts said. “I called Braxton and he thought it was an April Fools’ joke. I’ve been telling KB, our equipment manager, to bring his uniform for every game because I’m a smart coach and I knew the NCAA would do the right thing.
“He was a little nervous and rightfully so. I put him in a tough spot. I could have waited and played him on Thursday (against Presbyterian), but I was so excited. I wanted to see him out there.”
His teammates were even more excited than his coach. Upon hearing the news that he’d been cleared and would be eligible to play Tuesday, the other members of the Wolfpack mobbed him in the locker room with pats on the back and other expressions of support.
“I was in the hot tub and Lavar (Batts) walked in and said Braxton’s cleared,” junior Torin Dorn said. “We all jumped on him and embraced him. We were really happy for him. We were just focused on the game, so it was a surprise really.”
Beverly scored his first points three minutes after entering the game when he picked up a steal in State’s aggressive full-court press, then worked a nice give-and-go with teammate Markell Johnson for a layup.
Though he didn’t make another basket, he finished with an assist, two steals and two rebounds in 16 minutes of playing time.
“It was really great to finally get out there and play my first game,” Beverly said. “One for seven … I got the first-game jitters, first college game. But overall I’m really happy I finally got out there.”