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Arizona Women’s Basketball Player Dies
TUCSON — Arizona center Shawntinice Polk, a three-time all-Pac-10 selection and two-time honorable mention All-American selection, collapsed at McKale Center on Monday and later died.
The 22-year-old player’s death was caused by a pulmonary blood clot, a rare fatal occurrence for a healthy woman of her age, Dr. Eric Peters, Pima County’s deputy chief medical examiner, told The Arizona Daily Star.
Polk had a history of asthma and had knee surgery earlier this year, but neither would have increased her risk for “throwing clots” to her lungs, Peters said.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound senior had not been working out or practicing when she collapsed about midmorning Monday.
“There was not a workout involved, there was not a practice involved, she just was not feeling well” when she arrived at the McKale Center, athletic director Jim Livengood said.
“We lost a dear, dear friend in Shawntinice Polk this morning,” university president Peter Likins said, his voice breaking.
A memorial service was scheduled for Wednesday at McKale Center. Polk is survived by her mother, Johnny Little, four older brothers and two older sisters.
“This is a terribly sad, heartbreaking day in Arizona women’s basketball,” Wildcats coach Joan Bonvicini said. “I can’t put into words the pain and sadness that we’re all feeling right now.”
Polk was the driving force behind a team that went 20-12 and earned an NCAA tournament berth last season. She led the conference in blocked shots at 2.1 per game last season and was third in rebounding at eight per game.
“Our whole team is in shock, total disbelief,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “She was one of those players you weren’t supposed to like but you liked her anyway. … She was a great talent and it’s even hard to use the past tense for her. It seems so wrong for someone 22 years old.”
Polk is the school’s career leader in double-doubles (46) and blocked shots (222).
She was an honorable mention AP all-American selection as a freshman and sophomore before playing through much of her junior season with a knee injury. She still averaged 12.7 points and 8 rebounds a game last season.
She was named Pac-10 freshman of the year in 2003 when she averaged 17.4 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.
Polk, who preferred her nickname “Polkey,” was the third-leading scorer on the U.S. team that won the 2003 gold medal at the world young women’s championships in Sibenik, Croatia. She was a finalist for a spot on this year’s U.S. world university team.
“We all love Polkey. Our thoughts and prayers are with Polkey, her family and our Arizona family,” Bonvicini said.
Polk was a Parade magazine first-team All-American at Hanford (Calif.) High School.