Nebraska's Natalie Romeo: 'Immature' players pushed out Yori
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) One of the top players on the Nebraska women's basketball team says she never saw any player mistreated or overworked by Connie Yori, who quit this past week and has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
Yori's abrupt resignation followed an in-house investigation that began about halfway through a season that, according to a half-dozen people connected to the team and interviewed by The Associated Press, was fraught with tension among players, support staff and Yori.
The athletic department began investigating Yori's treatment of players after concerns of bullying and disregard for players' well-being were raised in February by several current players and some support staff members.
''None of this is true from my perspective,'' said Romeo, a sophomore from Martinez, California, who was the team's second-leading scorer.
Three male students who worked with the team as practice players also told the AP that they never witnessed Yori overwork, bully or abuse players in any way.
Two other people who attended practices and spoke on the condition of anonymity said tension was palpable all season between Yori and athletic trainer Julie Tuttle. The two people, who did not want to be identified because they feared repercussions from the school's athletic administration, said Tuttle on at least two occasions chastised Yori in front of the team over whether a player was healthy enough to participate in a drill. The people said Yori was concerned that getting shown up in practice by Tuttle was causing the team to lose respect for her.
Tuttle, through Nebraska media relations director Keith Mann, declined to answer questions submitted to her via email about her working relationship with Yori, whether she voiced her disagreement with the coach in front of the team or whether she complained about Yori to the administration.
The athletic department and Yori have not commented beyond statements announcing her resignation.
Former players who spoke to the AP said Yori's habit was to ask a player coming off injury whether she were able to participate in a drill and that if the player said no, the player was directed to sit out.
The Cornhuskers had a run of injuries this past season, but Romeo said she didn't see how they could be attributed to the practice routine.
''The reality is injuries happen all the time,'' Romeo said. ''There was no overworking of anyone.''
Nathan Alexander, a senior from Boyden, Iowa, who was in his fourth year as a practice player, said Yori was ''softer'' and practices were shorter this past season.
''She knew some people needed different treatment, and she went back and forth with specific players and did everything she could to motivate them,'' Alexander said. ''Some players were not willing to be motivated and go out there and work as hard as they could. I don't know why. That's just what I saw.''
The 52-year-old Yori has long had a reputation for being demanding.
''She's tough, but that's because she knew what you could achieve,'' said Kelsey Griffin, the 2010 Big 12 player of the year and first-team All-American. ''She wants you to be great.''
Romeo has received permission to contact other schools about transferring but said she wasn't certain she would leave Nebraska. She said the team was divided between players who supported Yori and those who didn't.
''Probably the basis would be the immaturity of our team. It kind of started small and got big,'' Romeo said.
Romeo said some players couldn't handle Yori's expectations.
''Every coach in Division I basketball is going to have some tough aspects to them,'' Romeo said. ''You can't just expect to come in and say I'm going to get my own way. Of course there is going to be some tough practices, but it's nothing out of the ordinary. This year, I can say she was not tough. This year was super easy.''
Yori, whose contract last summer was renewed through June 2020, said in her statement Tuesday that she was resigning for personal reasons. She and husband Kirk Helms are going through a divorce and child custody battle.
A separation agreement calls for her to be paid about $1.2 million.
A three-person panel formed by the athletic department interviewed players about the way Yori ran the program and treated them. An administrator attended each practice the second half of the season.
Yori was 280-166 at Nebraska. The Huskers finished 18-13 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten this past season. They failed to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four seasons and were ousted in the first round of the WNIT by Northern Iowa.