The 1997-98 Indiana women’s basketball media guide describes junior Hoosiers point guard Dani Thrush as an “exciting” and “talented” player who “gets in the middle of every play.”
This season, however, the scrappy 21-year-old point guard has been at the center of a controversy about her off-the-court actions.
Since pleading guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon on Dec. 22, Thrush and the Indiana athletics department have been the target of intense media scrutiny.
In August, Thrush crushed a beer bottle over another woman’s face during an altercation in a bar in her hometown of Keokuk, Iowa. The incident occurred after the woman, 23-year-old Holly White, tried to break up a heated argument between Thrush and another woman because the other woman was pregnant at the time.
The cuts to White’s face required 16 stitches. Thrush was given a two-year prison sentence by the Lee County District Court in Iowa with all but 30 days of her sentence suspended by judge David Hendrickson so that she could finish school and continue competing on the basketball team. She was also fined $1,500 and ordered to pay White $968 in restitution.
Her punishment from Indiana was far less severe — nothing.
Thrush was not suspended for any games or kicked off the team by the Indiana athletics department or Hoosiers coach Jim Izard for the conviction. Thrush has played in every game since she pleaded guilty and school officials appear satisfied with their decision.
“We feel like we have dealt with it in an appropriate manner,” Indiana associate athletics director Mary Ann Rohleder said. “That’s all I’m gonna say. It’s done, it’s over, it’s old news.”
Indiana (17-9 overall, 8-5 Big Ten), which hosts the Gophers on Sunday, has gone 10-4 since Thrush’s sentencing and are riding a five-game winning streak. The Hoosiers are alone in third place in the Big Ten, while Minnesota (4-19, 1-12) is in the conference cellar.
Thrush is currently seventh in the conference in assists, averaging 4.08 per game and eighth in assist to turnover ratio at 1.33.
Neither Thrush, Izard, the team’s three assistant coaches, nor most of the officials in the Indiana athletic department have commented on the issue since Thrush’s conviction. Indiana athletics director Clarence Doninger, who reportedly investigated the incident, did not return repeated phone messages Thursday. Izard also placed a gag order on Thrush after the incident, which he has since lifted.
But both the local and national media have refused to accept the school’s stance at face value, creating a whirlwind of attention focused on the junior guard and the team. In the last month and a half, numerous stories have been written about Thrush’s conviction and the university’s failure to suspend her, including articles in the Florida Times-Union, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Des Moines Register, The Indianapolis Star and the Associated Press.
A story in the scorecard section of this week’s Sports Illustrated, which referred to the decision not to punish Thrush as an “outrage,” dumped even more gasoline on the fire of an already heated issue, forcing the school, the athletics department and the team to face the charges once again.
“It’s nobody’s business what we do,” Rohleder said. “That’s a personnel matter.”
The incident in August wasn’t Thrush’s first brush with the law. The 5-foot-9 guard pleaded guilty to assault in February 1994 after breaking another woman’s nose with a punch, and received two years of probation. In March 1995, during her senior year in high school, Thrush was also charged with underage possession of alcohol and interference with official acts by the Keokuk Police Department. The incident occurred at a party at her friend Clyde Rosencrans’ house.
It seems that Thrush’s problems with the law have burned bridges virtually everywhere she’s been, including in her own hometown.
“Basically, I kind of think that she got what she deserved,” Clyde’s mother, Nancy Rosencrans, said. “If you smack somebody upside the head with a bottle, you are probably going to get in trouble.”
While Thrush was not suspended or kicked off the team at Indiana like some people think she should have been, the over-aggressive guard might still have received a fitting punishment — the loss of respect of her friends and neighbors.
“I would almost hope that she doesn’t come back to Keokuk,” Rosencrans said. “It’s a fresh start. She’s had some success over at Indiana. I would like to see her build on that, rather than coming back here.”