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NCCU offers to pay for education of women’s basketball players who lost scholarships

Seven players will receive funding if they decide to remain at the school after coach yanked their grants

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) has decided to fund the education of seven members of the women’s basketball team who didn’t have their scholarships renewed.

The decision was announced in a statement by the university on Tuesday, following days of intense criticism after NCCU head coach Trisha Stafford-Odom failed to renew the scholarships of 10 players — including three players she had recruited. Several players spoke to The Undefeated last week and described a season in which returning players were pitted against new recruits and coaches delivered heavy doses of verbal and mental abuse.

One player, Deja McCain, recalled leaving the team’s bus to retrieve her identification before a road trip and being left alone on campus in the early morning hours.

“All my belongings — my car keys, my things — were on that bus, and when I tried to call the coaches, none of them answered,” McCain told The Undefeated. “It was 5 o’clock in the morning, it was dark, the campus was empty [for Thanksgiving break] and it could have been a dangerous situation. One of my teammates who didn’t make the trip gave me a ride to the airport, and I just barely made it.”

Another player, Alyssa Thompson, likened the treatment of players to spousal abuse.

“We took the abuse like, ‘Well, today he hit me in my arm, but at least he didn’t punch me in my face like he did yesterday,’ ” Thompson told The Undefeated. “ ‘Today she called me worthless, but at least she didn’t call me a loser in life like she did yesterday.’

“It was that type of thing. It was bad.”

The players were notified that their scholarships were not being renewed during exit meetings two days after NCCU was eliminated in the opening round of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament. Not only were the players upset about having basketball yanked from them, they were also concerned about having their education paid for. College scholarships are renewable each year, which made the controversial moves by Stafford-Odom, who began her first year coaching at NCCU last season, within the rules.

Of the 10 players who did not get renewed, three were juniors who were set to graduate early. The rest: two freshmen, three juniors (including one redshirt junior) and two sophomores. If those seven remaining athletes decide to stay at NCCU, the school will now pay for their education.

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) remains committed to the academic success of all our students including student-athletes who were part of the women’s basketball team during the 2017-2018 season but who will not be returning next year. The university has reallocated resources for the seven students who are not graduating in May to continue and complete their education at North Carolina Central University. NCCU will provide scholarships and other funding to support each academically qualified student as she matriculates through her respective undergraduate degree program.

NCCU was one of the premier Division II programs in the nation when it played in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, winning the league’s championship in the 2006-07 season that ended with an NCAA tournament berth and a 26-6 record.

The team moved to Division I the following season and hasn’t had a winning season since. The Eagles finished 9-21 last season.

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.