Two days before Thanksgiving in 2009, Moses Ayegba arrived at Dulles International Airport on a flight from his native Nigeria. His plane ticket had been purchased by Joseph Boncore, a former Good Counsel assistant basketball coach who became Ayegba’s caretaker. At the time, Boncore said, he viewed the financial gesture as a means to help an aspiring 6-foot-8 basketball player come to the United States to develop his athletic skills.
On Friday, the NCAA ruled that Boncore’s gift constituted a violation of its pre-enrollment rules and declared Ayegba – now a freshman on the Georgetown men’s basketball team – ineligible for the first nine games of the season. Boncore is not Ayegba’s legal guardian, though he obtained written permission from Ayegba’s mother, Josephine, to make decisions on Ayegba’s behalf.
“If I had it to do again, what I did, I thought was fine,” Boncore said. “So if it’s a crime for me to buy a kid a plane ticket and I can’t do that from now on, then whatever. At least the kid is going to have an education.”
The NCAA interviewed Boncore in July, at which point Boncore revealed that he had paid for Ayegba’s plane ticket to the United States. He said he showed the NCAA a letter written by Josephine Ayegba authorizing Boncore to watch over her son and do what was necessary to take care of him. The NCAA mandated that Ayegba either reimburse Boncore for the cost of the ticket or make a donation to a charity of his choice in the same amount.
Boncore said Ayegba elected to make a donation in the amount of the plane ticket’s cost – which Boncore estimated to be around $1,400 – to a local charity. Boncore said that he did not know the name of the charity.
Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said before the Hoyas’ game Friday night at Old Dominion that a plan is in place for Ayegba to donate the money to a charity in small sums over time.
Thompson said Georgetown was notified that the NCAA had rejected its appeal of the ruling within the past day, though he received no explanation for the rejection. Thompson did, however, say he was surprised that the appeal did not result in a reduced penalty.
“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Thompson said. “They notified us during the recruiting process that wherever Moses went they were going to thoroughly investigate how it came to pass that he came into the country.”
In an e-mail, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn confirmed the NCAA mandated that Ayegba either reimburse Boncore for the cost of the plane ticket or pay the same amount to a charity of his choice.
When asked how the NCAA came to determine that nine games was an appropriate punishment for this sort of violation, Osburn wrote: “The decisions regarding withholdings are made from guidelines established by the NCAA Division I Student Athlete Reinstatement Committee.”
Osburn said the NCAA would have no further comment on Ayegba’s case.
Ayegba earned part of the money he is using to make the donation by working part-time delivering fish to local vendors this summer for a company of which Boncore is a part owner. He also is working a job set up through Georgetown, according to Boncore.
The NCAA declared that Ayegba had violated its regulations by accepting the plane ticket, because it was not purchased by an immediate family member. Georgetown’s appeal of the ruling was denied, leading to Ayegba’s nine-game suspension.
Last season, Ayegba played at Progressive Christian Academy in Camp Springs, where he averaged 15 points, 16 rebounds and 12 blocks per game. He lived at a boarding house near the school during the week and stayed at Boncore’s Rockville residence on the weekends.
Ayegba chose to sign with Georgetown, which avidly had pursued him since nearly the moment he stepped foot on American soil last November. Members of the Hoyas’ coaching staff viewed a workout in which Ayegba participated the day after he arrived, according to Boncore.
Boncore learned of Ayegba while playing a game of one-on-one against Ejike Ugboaja – a Nigerian native who was a second-round draft selection in 2006 by the Cleveland Cavaliers – in a Rockville gym in late July 2009. Out of basketball, Ugboaja now arranges for other Nigerian players to come to the United States and potentially further their athletic careers. Ugboaja was impressed by Boncore’s skill, and when the two men spoke afterward, Boncore agreed to begin training and looking after some of Ugboaja’s prospects. Ayegba was the first.
Ugboaja had plans to set up a nonprofit organization that would help pay for Nigerian basketball prospects to come to the United States, but it was not functional at the time, so Boncore paid for Ayegba’s plane ticket.
Ayegba is one of four freshmen expected to receive playing time this season. He is eligible to play Dec. 12 when the Hoyas host Appalachian State at Verizon Center.
“Is it a blow? Yes,” Thompson said. “But we have pieces. We’ll figure it out.”
Thompson said he also has not considered redshirting Ayegba.