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USC plays waiting game on Alex Stepheson

November 18, 2008 |  1:20 pm

Alex StephesonWill USC forward Alex Stepheson play tonight against New Mexico State? Will he play at all this season? That’s been the lingering question for Stepheson since mid-September, after he transferred from North Carolina.

“We haven’t heard anything yet,” said USC spokesman Dave Tuttle.

Citing his father’s health problems, Stepheson moved back to Los Angeles and transfered to USC after Angelo Johnson's transfer created a scholarship opening. Now he’s waiting for UNC to respond to his appeal. Athletes can't immediately play until they're cleared by the school that is releasing the player.

ESPN’s Andy Katz reported that Stepheson had to provide documentation to establish the need for him to be excused from the year-in-residence requirement.

The Trojans had hoped to get a response in time for tonight’s game. USC has a 10 p.m. flight to New York and then will fly to Puerto Rico for a Thursday game against Seton Hall in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Stepheson told The Times’ Gary Klein that he would not travel with the team if the NCAA does not clear him to play by tonight.

The NCAA has set a precedent during the past two seasons by clearing players with family health issues to transfer closer to home and play immediately.

Georgetown’s Julian Vaughn won approval to play this season for the Hoyas after transferring from Florida State. Tennessee’s Tyler Smith received a similar waiver last season after transferring from Iowa.

If Stepheson is cleared, Katz thinks the Trojans will “immediately become a Pac-10 title favorite along with UCLA and Arizona State.” Stepheson was twice chosen North Carolina's defensive player of the game in last season's NCAA Tournament.

-- Mark Medina

Photo: Alex Stepheson. Credit: Bob Donnan / US PRESSWIRE