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Penava tried, but couldn’t return to MU basketball

September 6, 2018

Ajdin Penava had second thoughts.

Nearly four months to the day, the 6-foot-10 native of Bosnia decided to reverse his earlier decision and return to the Marshall University men’s basketball program.

On April 19, Penava announced he was leaving Marshall and signing with an agent, in hopes of moving up to the NBA.

While stunned Herd fans gnashed their teeth, MU coach Danny D’Antoni and Penava’s teammates wished him well.

Yet, everyone wondered if Penava were making a mistake.

He wasn’t selected in the 2018 NBA Draft, which was no surprise.

But Washington did put Penava on the Wizards’ NBA Summer League roster.

He played sparingly, but it was a step in the right direction.

Then, Marshall held a ceremony on Aug. 19 where rings commemorating the Herd’s first NCAA Tournament victory in school history were distributed.

Penava was on hand to accept his ring.

And it clutched his heart.

He missed his teammates. He missed the camaraderie. He missed Marshall.

So, Penava told D’Antoni he’d like to come back — if possible. Those last two words were the crux of the matter.

Although the NCAA has changed its rules to allow collegiate players to sign with agents, Penava signed with representation before the new rule. What were the chances of Penava being grandfathered in? Not good.

But Marshall tried.

“We looked into appealing it,” said D’Antoni. “We tried. I knew that Coach K (Duke’s well-known basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski) had two players in the same situation that he was appealing, so I talked to him on the telephone about it.

“He said he didn’t think the NCAA was going to grant the appeals. So, if Coach K couldn’t get it done, I knew there was no way for us.”

As much as he wanted to, Penava couldn’t return to Marshall.

But he still had options.

Three NBA teams offered to sign Penava for their respective “G League” developmental team. The trio included the Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards and Houston Rockets, who are coached by Mike D’Antoni (Danny’s brother and a former Marshall star).

But Penava also had an offer from a pro team located in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, named Saski Bastonia.

It competes in Liga ACB and the EuroLeague.

Penava’s advisers favored that option.

“He signed a six-figure contract — I’m not going to say for how much exactly — for three years,” said D’Antoni. “It’s a real good contract. And he sent me a nice thank you note.”

The note read: “Hey coach, what’s up? Just wanted to let you know that I’m flying out today for Spain. I want to thank you for everything you and your family did for me! And thank you for allowing me to be a part of Marshall, loved the experience! Good luck this year, I’ll be following y’all! So let’s get that ring again!”

D’Antoni texted a reply reading, “Same here. Go get ’em. (You are) always welcomed back home.”

He ended the text with a thumbs-up emoji.

It isn’t the way anyone hoped the saga would play out.

Not Penava. Not D’Antoni.

And certainly not his Marshall teammates. But it is gratifying to know Penava realized where his heart truly was and wanted to return to Marshall.

That means a lot.

Mostly, it means everyone should pull for Penava, the same way he will be supporting the Herd. It’s the right thing to do.

Besides, it has a ring to it.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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