SAN JOSE, Calif. -- When Arizona's players pulled on their uniforms for their first scrimmage, it began to sink in they were moving ahead without Shawntinice Polk.
It was Polk who danced and sang in the locker room to get the Wildcats ready before games. The team's lively, beloved 6-foot-5
center, whose smile shone through a room and across the basketball floor, died in September after collapsing at the McKale Center. She
was 22, and this would have been her senior season.
"It's still shocking in a lot of ways that Polkey is not with us," coach Joan Bonvicini said Wednesday at Pac-10 women's basketball media day, a day after her players scrimmaged without
"I knew prior to the season we were going to have a close team, but this will be the closest team I've ever coached. ... I don't know if anyone in the country has anyone to replace Polkey," she
said. "We miss her terribly on the court."
Every team at Arizona is wearing a patch in Polk's honor, and a couple from Indiana who didn't even know Polk or follow the Wildcats donated $1 million toward the school's new practice facility, where a court will be named after Polk.
In the front inside cover of Arizona's media guide, a page is dedicated to Polk. Another page says "Remembering Polkey," with a
Without Polk, a two-time honorable mention All-America selection by The Associated Press and three-time Pac-10 first team
choice, Arizona is picked to finish seventh in the conference
after a fifth-place showing last season and a first-round win over
Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament.
"We will all miss her terribly, because she was a wonderful
human being in addition to being a great player," Pac-10
commissioner Tom Hansen said. "The affection is obvious the way
everyone reacted to her loss. We can't believe she's gone. Losing
any young person is the worst thing that can happen in life. We
will be thinking of her throughout the season."
Stanford was picked to win the conference for the fifth straight
year. The Cardinal, with reigning conference player of the year and
freshman of the year Candice Wiggins, went 32-3 last season and
reached the final eight of the NCAA tournament for the second
UCLA is picked to finish second, followed by USC, Arizona State,
Oregon, Washington, Arizona, California, Washington State and
Players and coaches from throughout the conference and the
country have reached out to Arizona.
Bonvicini received 400 e-mails after Polk's death and close to
the same number of phone calls.
"When she played, you couldn't help but like her," Bonvicini
said. "Polkey was bigger than life. We miss her. But her spirit
will live on in so many other ways."
The team held a moment of silence before Tuesday's scrimmage and
struggled early against a group of men the Wildcats often practice
"Yesterday was really hard," guard Natalie Jones said. "For
me, it's still a shock because I was so close to Polkey. We're
going to have a very special season this year. It's going to be
hard without Polkey."
The California team dealt with a similar situation in January
2004, when reserve Alisa Lewis died after apparently contracting
Several of the Golden Bears' players have offered moral support
to Arizona. And Arizona State's players visited the Wildcats in
Tucson last week as a show of friendship and sympathy.
"There is no right way or wrong way for grief," Bonvicini
said. "This is something we'll never get over."
Bracelets in Polk's honor are being sold for $2 at the Arizona
In other news, Jessica Elway, the daughter of Super Bowl-winning
quarterback John Elway, is no longer with the Stanford team after
having a minimal role last season as a freshman. She left for
personal reasons, the school said.
Coach Tara VanDerveer is giving Elway the option to return in
"It's up to her," VanDerveer said.