Tennessee baseball coach Tony Vitello said shortstop Maui Ahuna was emotional when he learned he wasn’t eligible to play in the Vols’ season opener.
But Ahuna is still waiting for the go-ahead to play for the No. 3 Vols, a projected national title contender.
“Hopefully everything will come to light,” Vitello said on WNML The Sports Animal. “I just hope that a kid that was teary-eyed in the hotel room when he found out (the news of his ineligibility) gets to play the game that he’s been working hard at.”
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Ahuna, a Kansas transfer, is a projected first-round MLB Draft pick. He was supposed to debut for UT in the MLB Desert Invitational in Scottsdale, Arizona, over the weekend.
Instead, Ahuna watched as the Vols (1-2) lost to Arizona and Grand Canyon and beat UC San Diego. He is awaiting NCAA eligibility clearance, a UT spokesperson told Knox News.
Maui Ahuna’s status uncertain for home opener
No. 3 Tennessee plays Alabama A&M in its home opener on Tuesday (4:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network+) at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Vitello didn’t provide a timetable for Ahuna to become eligible. And he said he didn’t want to risk making the situation worse by saying the wrong thing.
“I don’t know what I can and can’t (say to media). I didn’t even ask,” Vitello said. “It really is out of my hands. Maybe (there will be) a clearer picture once things are done. I would like to hope there will be a resolution sooner than later.
“There’s a lot of backstories that go with it and a lot of drama and a lot of things that are left unsaid.”
What Ahuna thought of his replacement at shortstop
The Vols could use Ahuna’s bat near the top of the order. Last season, he hit .396 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs for Kansas in an All-Big 12 campaign.
Redshirt sophomore Austin Jaslove, a product of Christian Academy of Knoxville, made his UT debut by filling in for Ahuna at shortstop.
Jaslove went 2-for-10 at the plate and committed an error in the field, but he eventually warmed up to the position. He got his first career hit against Grand Canyon. And against UC San Diego, he had an RBI single and scored a run.
“There’s no way (Jaslove) can play that well without Maui’s support,” Vitello said. “And it was pretty cool how Maui handled things and supported (Jaslove). He was happy for him.”
Tennessee committed minor violation in Ahuna recruitment
UT has not indicated what’s holding up Ahuna’s eligibility. The only known speedbump to his recruitment was a NCAA Level III violation that UT self-reported last summer.
UT committed the violation by approving Ahuna’s flight for a recruiting visit to campus before receiving his transcript from Kansas, according to a university document obtained by Knox News via a public records request.
Level III violations are common and routinely reported by athletics departments at every school. They often result in minor penalties, as was the case in that instance for UT.
Ahuna was not named in the university document, but Knox News learned he was the recruit referenced. Ahuna, a native of Hilo, Hawaii, visited UT in June. Per NCAA bylaw, a transcript must be received before an institution is permitted to provide expense-paid travel for a recruit’s official visit.
UT ultimately received the transcript, but not before Ahuna’s flight. He committed to the Vols at the end of his visit on June 10, hours before UT played Notre Dame in the super regional.
UT staff members self-reported the violation. As a penalty, they underwent a review of rules education. Also, exceptions will no longer be made to any sport to book flights without satisfying all conditions of NCAA rules in approving official visits.
Reach Adam Sparks at email@example.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.