Basketball star won’t return to program next season

by Evan Sporer / Beacon Staff • February 23, 2012

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Junior Olivia DiNucci is the second all-time leading scorer for Emerson’s women’s basketball. She will not play another season.
Junior Olivia DiNucci is the second all-time leading scorer for Emerson’s women’s basketball. She will not play another season.

Olivia DiNucci, the second all-time leading scorer in Emerson women’s basketball history, said Saturday she will not play her senior season, saying she was frustrated by this past year of basketball and what she sees as a growing rift between athletes and Athletics Department officials.

Emerson did not make the playoffs this year for the first time since 2005. The team finished fifth in the preseason poll, yet found itself in ninth when the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) schedule was over.

The team had one GNAC game remaining on the schedule last Saturday and was on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. A win would not guarantee a playoff spot, but a loss would have ended all hope of a postseason berth.

After defeating Anna Maria College 75-52 last Saturday, the women’s basketball team was eliminated later that day from GNAC playoff contention after losing to Norwich University.

“I just don’t want to play at Emerson College anymore, basically,” DiNucci said. “As an Emerson College player, I don’t think I’ll miss it.”

Only 76 points shy of tying Molly Zahr as the highest scoring player in Emerson women’s basketball history, DiNucci will leave Boston to attend Emerson’s Washington D.C. program in the fall. While the GNAC schedule does not begin until second semester, after DiNucci will have returned to Boston, the junior is electing to take a capstone class while in D.C. and graduate a semester early had the situation with basketball been different, DiNucci said it would have changed her decision.

“I just don’t like playing in this atmosphere here, I just don’t feel like I’m playing a collegiate sport,” DiNucci said.

The junior guard liked the team’s prospects before the season, but said things did not pan out as she thought they would.

“We have advantages that I don’t think we took advantage of,” DiNucci said. “I don’t feel like we executed well.”

Her coach acknowledged her frustrations and described DiNucci as a fierce competitor.

“We didn’t accomplish what we wanted to — she took that personally, took that to heart,” Bill Gould said. “I think teams really keyed in on her this year for her first time at Emerson, and it was a tough adjustment for her.”

Throughout the season, DiNucci still enjoyed her usual success, despite heightened defensive pressure from opponents. Her 17.1 points per game were the fourth highest in the GNAC. Her 40 percent three-point shooting efficiency was second highest in the league. She eclipsed the 1,000 point plateau this January and passed her former teammate Kathy Andrade as the second all-time leading scorer in Emerson women’s basketball history in the final game of the season, with Andrade in attendance.

But as the team struggled to find wins, DiNucci said her frustrations grew. The women finished with an overall record of 9-16 and a 6-7 record in conference.

“All I wanted to do was win after so long,” DiNucci said. “I didn’t understand a lot of the coaching decisions, and some of the things I recognized, I wish they were recognized by others.”

DiNucci said she hoped things would improve after every season, but they did not. One of the problems she cited was a small roster — the team never had more than nine girls so the players could not scrimmage during practice. In turn, DiNucci said it led to a culture where players could get away with more, as the team was so short on numbers.

“I could see that as being a valid concern, and with the number of recruits I’m looking at this season, hopefully I rectify this situation,” Gould said. “Kids make decisions for many reasons, some of them are good, some of them are not.”

Still, the junior also cited displeasure with the Athletics Department as another reason for her decision.

“As I look back on it, I understand Emerson wants to build itself up as an athletic department, but I constantly felt like I was playing an intramural sport, which sort of made me feel it’s not worth it to come back and play next year,” DiNucci said. “When you come to a school, and you commit so much time to something, you think people would be supportive, but you walk in [to the athletics offices], and the administration doesn’t even acknowledge you. I don’t like that environment.”

The Athletics Department declined to comment on the issue. DiNucci encouraged other athletes  —  whom she said held similar opinions — to speak up about what she described as a culture of mistrust between athletes and administrators after the controversial firing of a coach last year.

“For all the athletes as a whole, I hope things change in athletics,” DiNucci said. “Ever since the [men’s basketball coach] Hank Smith firing, people have felt like athletics is scheming, and no one knows what they’re going to do next.”

DiNucci plans to bring her concerns directly to the department. 

“Things that I have taken issue with, I’m going to address with the athletic department,” DiNucci said.  “We as athletes won’t be fired for speaking up, others will.”