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UConn and Tennessee women’s programs spar over transfer

Geno Auriemma hints that Evina Westbrook’s situation with the Vols was unhealthy.
Connecticut's Evina Westbrook, left, sits with her new teammates, unable to play as a transfer student because the NCAA denied her immediate eligibility.
Connecticut's Evina Westbrook, left, sits with her new teammates, unable to play as a transfer student because the NCAA denied her immediate eligibility. [ STEPHEN DUNN | AP ]
Published Nov. 16, 2019

The news of Evina Westbrook’s denied transfer waiver may be a few days old, but individuals from both UConn, Westbrook’s current school, and Tennessee, Westbrook’s former school, still have a lot to say about it.

Friday afternoon, UConn coach Geno Auriemma explained why he hasn’t delved into specifics surrounding Westbrook’s situation at Tennessee, which he has on multiple occasions painted as unhealthy and one that had “one of my players went through … I think there would be an investigation here.”

“I don’t feel like it’s my place to do that. It’s somebody else’s,” Auriemma said. “If Evina wants to, if anybody in her camp wants to, that’s different. I’m not going to get into any of that.”

Westbrook, who announced her decision to transfer from Tennessee in mid-April, told a reporter after Tennessee’s first-round loss in the NCAA tournament that “off-the-court stuff, steps need to be taken with our staff and just overall off the court with this team.” Other than that, she has not delved into specifics of her experience at the school, and she has not been made available to the media since her waiver’s denial.

Auriemma added that he has not discussed with Westbrook the possibility of her ‘going public’ with the circumstances surrounding her transfer.

“(If) they would say anything publicly, I don’t think it changes anything,” Auriemma said. “And if I were them, I would do the same thing, I would just say it’s over and done with. We presented our case and we lost. So, we move on. That’s all.”

Though Westbrook has remained mum, Thursday night Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer spoke publicly about the case for the first time since Westbrook’s waiver was denied, largely emphasizing that the program is looking forward.

“(Auriemma) doesn’t know me at all. I’ve never met him that I know of,” Fulmer told Zack Rickens of WVLT Knoxville. “I’m very proud of our program and what we’ve done here. We’re moving forward with Lady Vol basketball. … That’s just kind of water under the bridge and we’re looking forward.”

“I don’t know (Fulmer),” Auriemma responded on Friday. “He doesn’t know me and I don’t know him. I do know Evina met with him on a number of occasions, and then he said the first time he’s heard of (Westbrook’s concerns) was when he read about it. So somebody’s not telling the truth.”

The day after Westbrook’s waiver was initially denied, Fulmer expressed disappointment with the NCAA over the denied waiver of men’s basketball player Uros Plavsic, who transferred from Arizona State to Tennessee. Auriemma and UConn athletic director David Benedict called on Fulmer to show the same displeasure about Westbrook’s situation that he demonstrated for Plavsic’s and said that Fulmer took a neutral position on Westbrook’s waiver instead of actively supporting it.

“That’s a whole other subject,” Fulmer said when asked about his response to Plavsic’s waiver. “The NCAA needs to open their eyes, in my opinion, and look at the mess that we’re in and find some means. It’s much bigger than one or two schools, this is a national issue.”

“I wasn’t asking him to do something that no one does,” Auriemma said on Friday about calling on Fulmer to support Westbrook’s request for immediate eligibility. “But then don’t (complain) and moan when one of your kids gets denied who’s trying to come into your school.”

New Tennessee coach Kellie Harper, who was hired to replace Holly Warlick in early April, was also asked to respond to Auriemma’s comments Thursday night.

“The 12 players that I work with are bought in,” Harper said. “They play hard, they practice hard, they have good team chemistry. From my viewpoint, Tennessee is a great place to be a student athlete.”

“We have a great team and we love our coaches,” Tennessee forward Lou Brown added. “It’s a good environment for us now, for us here. That’s where our focus is now. We’re worried about now, we’re worried about what’s going on this year.”

When previously reached for comment by the Courant, Tennessee has declined to directly respond to Auriemma’s and Benedict’s claims beyond, “Tennessee wishes Evina Westbrook well. We’ve since moved on, and our program is moving forward.”