Montana’s Sammy Fatkin, a Glacier Peak High School alum, is averaging 6.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists in eight games for the Grizzlies. (University of Montana photo)

Montana’s Sammy Fatkin, a Glacier Peak High School alum, is averaging 6.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists in eight games for the Grizzlies. (University of Montana photo)

GP grad happy to be back on court after NCAA waiver granted

Sammy Fatkin expected to sit out a season after transferring from Arizona to Montana.

Sammy Fatkin was fully prepared to sit out the 2018-19 women’s college basketball season.

Fatkin transferred from the University of Arizona to the University of Montana last May, and she’d accepted the standard NCAA procedure of sitting out a season when transferring.

However, a door opened for Fatkin, and she finds herself back on the court sooner than originally planned.

The Glacier Peak High School graduate was granted a waiver from the NCAA, allowing her to play this season, meaning she’s contributing to the Grizzlies almost a year earlier than expected.

Fatkin, a 5-foot-11 sophomore point guard, received her clearance on Dec. 19 and has played in eight games for Montana, averaging 6.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists.

“It’s been really good to get back on the court,” Fatkin said. “I missed it more than anything. I’m really excited about this season and what the team can do.”

“It’s really nice (having Fatkin eligible),” Montana coach Shannon Schweyen said. “It was something we didn’t think about initially, but things happened where we contemplated seeking her release, and we decided to move forward with that and see how it went.”

The way it went worked out for both Fatkin and the Grizzlies.

What Fatkin is doing is unusual, but not unprecedented. Usually a women’s basketball player has to sit out a full season when transferring between NCAA Division I schools, unless she’s a grad transfer. However, a player can petition the NCAA for a waiver to become eligible immediately, based on extenuating circumstances.

The website tracks women’s basketball transfers. According to the site there were approximately 140 transfers between NCAA Division I women’s basketball programs following the 2017-18 season. As of Dec. 21 there had been 25 waivers granted by the NCAA for reasons ranging from injuries to coaching changes.

Both Fatkin and Schweyen declined to comment on the circumstances that allowed Fatkin to petition the NCAA for a waiver.

Fatkin had a stellar prep career at Glacier Peak, leading the Grizzlies to a runner-up finish at the 2018 4A state tournament and being named The Herald’s Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Big things were expected of her when she headed to Arizona as a heralded freshman.

However, Fatkin’s freshman season with the Wildcats didn’t go as planned. Arizona suffered through a dismal season in which the Wildcats went 6-24 and finished second-to-last in the Pac-12. Fatkin was used sparingly off the bench, averaging just 11.8 minutes and 2.0 points in 28 games. After the season Fatkin decided to transfer.

“I was recruited to be a point guard, someone who could play the 1, 2 or 3 and be a very versatile player,” Fatkin said. “When I got there things kind of changed, they wanted me to be a shooting guard, and that’s when I decided I wanted to go to a team I could offer more to.”

Montana, which recruited Fatkin hard out of high school and ended up finishing second in the recruiting race, was the natural choice.

“We were elated,” Schweyen said about getting a second crack at Fatkin. “We had kind of watched her numbers down there and wondered if that was going to be the best fit for her. As the season went on we heard rumors she might be leaving, and we were always hoping to get that phone call. We finally did, and that was a good day.”

The plan was for Fatkin to redshirt this season as she sat out her transfer season. However, Montana’s backcourt has been ravaged by injuries. Sophomore point guard Sophia Stiles, who suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury in her knee last season, has yet to return to full strength. Junior Madi Schoening, a three-year starter, played only one game before being shut down for the season with a foot injury. The Grizzlies suddenly had a shortage of guards.

With Fatkin on hand and a full participant in practices, but not eligible to play in games, the Grizzlies decided mid-November to give petitioning the NCAA a shot. Reams of paperwork were filled out; Arizona was contacted for approval; a month’s worth of uncertainty went by.

Then after practice on Dec. 19 the team was gathered and told as a group that Fatkin received her clearance.

“I found out at the same time as everyone else and I was in tears,” Fatkin said. “Everyone was excited for me, and to have that support from my team was pretty special.”

Fatkin wasn’t given much time reflect on her good fortune. Montana had a game the next night, an exhibition contest against Montana Tech in which she had seven points, six rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes off the bench.

Since then Montana has had yet another injury to a guard, as junior starter Taylor Goligoski suffered a season-ending knee injury. Fatkin moved into the starting lineup last Saturday against Idaho and poured in 19 points in 37 minutes as the Grizzlies beat the Vandals 82-79.

And Fatkin couldn’t be happier that her time on the sidelines ended earlier than expected.

“It was kind of a crazy process, but at the end of the day I put my trust in the fact that if it went through there’d be a lot of positives, but there also were a lot of positives to redshirting,” Fatkin said. “Either way I was going to be better for it.

“But I’m excited to be back on the court,” Fatkin added. “I wanted to be on the court with my teammates this year.”

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