Just before the college basketball season started, Connecticut found out that former Lady Vol Evina Westbrook would not be eligible to play for the Huskies after the point guard transferred from UT following the conclusion of last season.
After that initial decision by the NCAA, UConn decided to appeal the denial. But that, too, was denied.
Before the Huskies’ game with Vanderbilt in Nashville on Wednesday, the program found out that Westbrook’s appeal of the original decision had also been denied. After UConn’s 64-51 win over the Commodores, head coach Geno Auriemma put the Lady Vols program on blast following the decision.
“The thing I keep coming back to, if you read (the NCAA’s) release, the original one, we think it’s kind of a normal situation,” Auriemma said after the game. “That’s what the (NCAA) said. ‘We kind of think it’s a normal situation, that it happens at a lot of campuses.’
“You know what? A lot of campuses should shut down 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.”
Auriemma event went on to call out Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer, saying that even the former National Championship winning head coach knows just how bad the environment was under former Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick.
“A kid is 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,” Aureimma stated. “And the athletic director there (Fulmer) knows it, but he’s not going to support her leaving, which would’ve helped us a little bit.”
While Auriemma was going on a tirade in Nashville, new Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper was back in Knoxville following Tennessee’s dominant win over No. 15 Notre Dame in South Bend on Monday, preparing her first-year squad for Thursday night’s game with Tennessee State.
Led by a game-high 14 points from sophomore guard Rae Burrell, the Lady Vols defeated the Tigers 73-43 to improve to 4-0 on the young season. Tennessee held Tennessee State to 21 percent shooting from the field.
Following the game, Harper was asked about Auriemma calling out the culture of the program.
“From my view point, and obviously I’m only here now, but the 12 players I’m working with, they are bought in, they play hard, they practice hard, and they have good team chemistry.” Harper said. “So, from my viewpoint, Tennessee is a great place to be a student-athlete.”
Westbrook put her name in the NCAA transfer portal after the firing of Holly Warlick as head coach. Once Harper was hired, Westbrook met with the new Lady Vols’ coach, but she decided to keep her name in the portal.
Shortly after that, Westbrook announced she would be transferring to UConn.
Senior Lou Brown is in her second season on Rocky Top. She made her way to Knoxville as a graduate transfer from Washington State last season but had to sit out during Warlick’s final year as head coach after tearing her ACL just before the season started. After being granted a medical redshirt, Brown’s playing her sixth-year of eligibility with Harper at the helm.
Brown was on the roster for the final year of Holly Warlick’s tenure, so she knows what the culture was like then. But when she was asked to comment, she focused on the here and now instead.
“Right now, all I can say is we have a great team, we love our coaches, it’s a good environment for us now,” Brown stated. “That’s where our focus is. We’re worried about now, what’s going on this year.
“We’re all happy to be here. We all love being a part of this program, and I think that’s going to show in the way we play, our chemistry as a team, and the relationship we have with our coaches.”
After picking up wins over Notre Dame and Tennessee State this week, the Lady Vols will be off this weekend before turning their attention to Stetson on Tuesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.