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UConn Women’s Basketball: Evina Westbrook’s waiver appeal denied

The Tennessee transfer will have to sit out the 2019-20 season.

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Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn women’s basketball’s Evina Westbrook will sit out the 2019-20 season after the NCAA’s Committee for Legislative Relief denied the school’s appeal for her to play immediately. The appeal was UConn’s final course of action for Westbrook after NCAA rejected her initial waiver request two weeks ago.

UConn athletic director David Benedict was critical of the decision.

“Knowing the facts of this case, I am at a loss for how the NCAA Committee for Legislative Relief decided not to grant a transfer waiver for Evina Westbrook. It is clear that the system we have in place failed and I hope to be a contributor to a reformed process in the near future. For now though, we will continue to support Evina and her family in every way that we can.”

Westbrook transferred to UConn from Tennessee after head coach Holly Warlick was fired. After the Vols were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, Westbrook told reporters she felt changes were needed in the program.

“Most definitely. I just think off-the-court stuff. Steps need to be taken with our staff, and just overall, off-the-court, this team,” she said.

While the exact circumstances of Westbrook’s departure are unknown, both Benedict and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma believe it met the criteria for a waiver.

“Think about this. A kid’s in an environment that’s not necessarily healthy. An environment that if you knew what the environment is — which I can’t say — you would not want your kid in that environment,” Auriemma told the media after the Huskies’ win over Vanderbilt, per The Tennessean. “And the athletic director there knows it, but he’s not going to support her leaving which would’ve helped us a little bit. And now her reward is she has to sit at home even when we travel and can’t play. So she should’ve stuck it out, right?”

Westbrook went with the team to Vanderbilt with the appeal pending but will not be allowed to travel with them moving forward. Auriemma outlined what he wants to see from Westbrook now that she’s relegated to a practice-only role.

“She’s got a lot of work to do,” he said. “She’s got a lot of work to do to get healthy. She has a lot of work to do to get involved in our program a little bit more. She’s going to have to use this year to get bigger and better and stronger and all those kinds of things. She’s a tough kid.”

She will have two years of eligibility remaining starting with the 2020-21 season. However, she can declare for the WBNA Draft before her eligibility is up.

This decision also leaves the Huskies’ current squad thin on both in talent and depth. UConn has just four reliable contributors in Crystal Dangerfield, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Megan Walker and Christyn Williams and its two best options after that are freshmen. Without Westbrook, the Huskies are left with just nine active players until Batouly Camara returns from knee surgery.

However, Auriemma was adamant that the school’s push to get a waiver for Westbrook had nothing to do with basketball.

“Most of the time, we don’t ask (for a waiver). We have kids transfer in, we don’t bother asking. We just say ‘Okay, you have to sit out a year.’ Why? ‘Because the reason you left doesn’t have anything to do with anything. You just decided you didn’t want to play there anymore,” he said.

“This was a special situation. That’s why we asked. That’s why we went as far as we did. We’ve never appealed any decision — any kid’s transfer before. It’s got nothing to do with ‘It would make our team better.’ This team needs a lot more than Evina Westbrook to get better, trust me. It’s not about that.”