ST. PAUL — Oh, for more of this kind of drama.
It’s is a tribute to women’s sports, and our betters in general, that Gophers women’s basketball momentarily became the biggest story in Twin Cities sports this week over a coach and player butting heads.
No one was assaulted, arrested or became an amateur porn star on social media.
Coach Lindsay Whalen didn’t feel Destiny Pitts was pulling in the same direction, so she suspended her best player for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Pitts took to social media to announce her intention to transfer, saying she was “blindsided” by being suspended for “body language.”
We don’t know exactly what that means. Did Pitts snub her coach after leaving the court, flip someone off, close her eyes during film study? It remains unclear. The guess here is that Pitts didn’t like her role, didn’t pay much attention to the game plan and that during some conversation with her coach was told her body language made it clear she wasn’t particularly interested.
But who knows?
What we do know is that Pitts was not suspended because she and a teammate were arrested on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct. She wasn’t suspended for appearing in a sexually explicit video posted to social media, either. Nor was she being investigated by the U’s Title IX wing for sexual assault or being part of a prescription drug ring.
Unhappy and recalcitrant seems downright wholesome.
Pitts was a freshman when the coach that recruited her, Marlene Stollings, left for Texas Tech. She stuck around to play for Whalen and was a first-team all-Big Ten player last season. She was leading the Gophers in scoring with 16.3 points a game this season but apparently bristled under Whalen’s rules.
Told she would not play in Thursday’s 76-75 loss to No. 22 Iowa at Williams Arena, Pitts took to social media to announce her intention to enter the NCAA transfer portal — which, let’s face it, isn’t easy on teams.
Whalen briefly addressed Pitts’ departure after Thursday’s game, acknowledging the two had “some discussions” about the situation and concluded Pitts’ decision to transfer was “for the best.”
“And we wish her nothing but the best,” the coach added.
It puts into stark relief what Whalen is willing to put up with compared to some of her peers (see: above).
Pitts was the U’s best player, or at least best scorer, and the Gophers will be hard-pressed to win in the Big Ten without her this season. Yet Whalen was willing to send her a serious message for the way she was carrying herself.
Whalen, who led Minnesota to its only Final Four appearance before launching what will be a hall of fame WNBA career with the Lynx, clearly is serious about being the entire team’s coach.
The NCAA does not require student-athletes to have a reason for wanting to transfer, which is good because this isn’t Soviet Russia but can be tough on coaches trying to build a program. One can enter the portal at will, so, say, after months of personal misery or in a snit. And one doesn’t have to inform the coach.
It’s unclear whether the Gophers learned of the decision from Pitts herself, the compliance office or when Pitts announced her decision on social media hours before Thursday’s tipoff. In any case, the U will not attempt to restrict Pitts’ eligibility anywhere else.
The timing of Pitts’ announcement itself could be construed as something like bad body language. But it also might simply be a self-absorbed 20-year-old just not thinking; that’s been known to happen and it’s not a serious offense.
In the current climate of college sports, it’s downright quaint.