Geno Auriemma Blasts Tennessee After Westbrook Appeal Denied

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    (Photo via Sports Illustrated)

    The NCAA denied the waiver of former Lady Vol Evina Westbrook to play immediately for the UConn women’s basketball team right before the 2019-20 season began. On Wednesday, the NCAA denied UConn’s appeal of that original denial, and now the Huskies have no other avenue to pursue to get Westbrook eligible for this season.

    On Wednesday night after UConn’s 64-51 victory over Vanderbilt, Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma sounded off about the denial, and he dragged Tennessee through the mud in the process, blasting the culture under former head coach Holly Warlick and saying Tennessee should “shut down their program” if what was going on under Warlick was “normal.”

    “The thing I keep coming back to, if you read (the NCAA’s) release, the original one, (they said) ‘we think it’s kind of a normal situation.’ That’s what the (NCAA) said, ‘We kind of think it’s a normal situation,’ that it happens at a lot of campuses,” Auriemma said per quotes from The Hartford Courant. “You know what? A lot of campuses should shut down their programs if that’s normal. That’s basically what this is. Say something else. Say anything. Don’t say that’s normal. That’s the word they used, ‘That’s normal.'”

    Westbrook announced back in May that she would be transferring to UConn after spending two seasons at Tennessee. The decision came after the firing of head coach Holly Warlick and the hiring of Kellie Harper as the new head coach. Westbrook put her name in the NCAA transfer portal before Harper was hired and decided to continue her transfer process after meeting with Harper.

    UConn said they provided more than 100 pages of supporting documentation in their waiver and appeal, and Tennessee didn’t oppose the waiver application. Auriemma said UConn asked Tennessee to support Westbrook’s appeal, but he insists that Tennessee neither supported nor opposed the decision.

    When asked for comment following the initial denial of Westbrook’s waiver, a spokesman from Tennessee’s athletics department responded: “Tennessee wishes Evina Westbrook well. We’ve since moved on, and our program is moving forward.”

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    Auriemma failed to specify what he meant by the culture at Tennessee not being “normal,” simply saying “I can’t get into that” when pressed for follow-up information.

    “Think about this: A kid’s in an environment that’s not necessarily healthy, an environment that, if you knew what the environment was — which I can’t say — you would not want your kid in that environment,” Auriemma explained. “And the athletic director there (Phillip Fulmer) knows it, but he’s not going to support her leaving, which would have helped us a little bit.

    “And now, her reward is she has to sit at home even when we travel and can’t play.”

    Though she won’t be on the floor when the two teams play, Westbrook’s new team will take on her old team later this season. And all this drama and controversy will likely make what was already going to be a heated game even more electrifying.

    The Lady Vols and Huskies will tip-off at 7:00 PM Eastern on January 23, 2020 later this season. It marks the first time since 2007 the two women’s basketball powers — and bitter rivals — have played each other.

    As for Auriemma and Westbrook, the UConn head coach would like an explanation as to why the NCAA makes the decisions they do.

    “I would like to know why some people do get cleared or get waivers and others don’t,” Auriemma said. “I have no idea anymore. I really don’t. And you know what, who does it punish? Who does it punish? Does it punish Tennessee? That kid’s not going to be there anyway. The only person that it punishes when this happens is the kid who’s trying to get themselves in a better environment.”

    Westbrook joined the Lady Vols as one of the highest-rated players in her respective recruiting class. Westbrook was considered the No. 1 guard and was ranked as high as the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2017 recruiting cycle, and she was a McDonald’s All-American. She was named the National Player of the Year by several outlets, and she helped win gold for the USA at the FIBA Americas U18 Tournament.

    The 6-foot guard played in 31 games for the Lady Vols last season and started every game she played. She averaged 14.9 points, 5.3 assists, and 3.6 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent overall and 38.0 percent from three.

    Westbrook played in 64 games for the Lady Vols in her two years with the program, and she started all 64 of them.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.