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UC Irvine coach apologizes for ‘insensitive’ remarks in calling Oregon’s Louis King ‘Queen’ during NCAA tournament loss

UC Irvine coach apologizes for ‘insensitive’ remarks in calling Oregon’s Louis King ‘Queen’ during NCAA tournament loss
UC Irvine head basketball coach Russell Turner gestures during the first half of Friday's win over Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. He apologized Monday for his “ill-considered actions” during Sunday’s loss to Oregon. (Chris Carlson / AP)

UC Irvine’s Russell Turner issued a statement Monday acknowledging that his actions during a loss to Oregon on Sunday in the NCAA tournament were “inappropriate and insensitive.”

The ninth-year basketball coach said after the Anteaters’ 73-54 defeat that, while shouting instructions to his team from the sideline, he repeatedly referred to the Ducks’ Louis King as “Queen” in an attempt to distract the freshman forward.

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The postgame admission ignited criticism, particularly on social media, about Turner’s professionalism. He was accused of homophobia and sexism, and crossing the line meant to exist between a coach and another team’s players.

“I share UC Irvine’s belief that inclusivity and diversity are paramount values,” Turner’s statement read, “and I apologize for not understanding that my actions during the game suggested otherwise.”

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Irvine lost to Oregon in the second round of the NCAA tournament in San Jose, ending the school’s finest basketball season ever.

While the teams were lined up shaking hands following the final buzzer, Turner was seen talking closely with King. A reporter asked Turner afterward what the two discussed.

Rather than dismiss the question, he explained what had happened during the game and praised King for the way he responded on the court.

“I was saying, ‘Double team Queen’ to try to see if I could irritate him,” Turner said. “And I did. And I kept talking to my team about what we wanted to do. We were calling him ‘Queen’ because I knew it might irritate him, because of how important he is to their team, the queen in chess. It was a play on his name of King.

“And it bothered him, [he] started thinking about me, started thinking about [Irvine guard] Max [Hazzard]. But he came back and finished the game really strong. And he’d had a thing or two to say to me during the game. And I wanted to let him know that what I’d done was out of respect.”

King made five of 10 shots and finished as the Ducks’ second-leading scorer with 16 points.

In his statement Monday, Turner said he also had spoken to King’s parents and Oregon coach Dana Altman and that each “graciously accepted my explanation and apology.”

“I take seriously my responsibility as a campus and community leader, and I regret that my actions during the Oregon game did not meet the standard of leadership I should consistently set,” the statement continued. “For that, I apologize to the UC Irvine community, including the student-athletes and coaches of our men’s basketball program.

“When student-athletes on our team make mistakes, I expect them to take responsibility and to learn from their mistakes in order to improve themselves. I will do the same. I accept full responsibility for my ill-considered actions, and I will learn from this situation to be a more thoughtful coach and competitor.”

Jeff Miller writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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