ATHENS — Each of the three individuals stepped in front of the television news cameras and a decent-sized scrum of sports reporters holding tape recorders to answer the questions none of them cared to Tuesday.
It was the penultimate day before the NCAA Tennis Championships, which are being hosted by the University of Georgia for the 32nd time starting Thursday. Georgia head coach Manuel Diaz and players Robert Loeb and Jan Zielinksi normally would be thrilled to have this much press on hand for a pre-tournament briefing and practice. But the Bulldogs’ quarterfinals match against No. 4-ranked Southern Cal was not the first subject of inquiry.
Many in attendance sought information about the ongoing police investigation into allegations of prescription drug thefts by individuals associated with Georgia’s nationally-acclaimed tennis program. Very little in the way of answers were provided.
“We’re all excited; we’re not focused on that,” Robert Loeb, a freshman who competes in both singles and doubles for the Bulldogs, said of the ongoing investigation being distracting. “Any questions about that, ask Coach Diaz. We’re all just excited to be playing in Athens. We’ve been looking forward to this all year.”
Sophomore Jan Zielinski, Loeb’s partner on Georgia’s No. 1-ranked doubles team, pretty much echoed the sentiments of his teammate. And they’re both echoing what has been a consistent message from Diaz and members of UGA’s athletic department administration in regard to the ongoing criminal investigation, which comes at an extremely inopportune time from a competitive tennis standpoint.
Diaz, Georgia’s ultra-successful coach of the last 29 years, exhibited a positive and upbeat attitude Tuesday and insisted the perennial-powerhouse Trojans’ — not distractions — are his team’s chief nemesis for this tournament.
“No distraction,” Diaz declared. “Our guys have had a tremendous week of practice. They’re in a great frame of mind and we’re moving forward. We got a tremendous group of kids and we’re looking forward to a true national championship atmosphere.”
When pressed for details about the nature of the allegations and the level of involvement of coaches or players, Diaz said he couldn’t comment because the investigation is ongoing. He also declined to say whether any of his current players are involved.
Diaz did say, however, that team members are “getting counseled.”
“The kids are in a good place,” Diaz said. “I can’t answer any questions about the investigation myself, according to my instructions. … It’s an ongoing investigation and we’ll just have to let the law enforcement folks do their job.”
Diaz, who is listed as the reporting party on an incident report released by UGA Police Tuesday, did say it is his understanding that there is not nor will be an NCAA investigation into the events that prompted the initial police inquiry on May 7. Typically college sports teams have controlled substances around, but they still have to be prescribed by a physician and kept in a locked cabinet. There almost certainly will be a review of how Georgia and its sports medicine staff oversees its prescription medications.
Diaz said his primary message to the players has been to let him and UGA’s athletic administration handle the ongoing probe and they focus on enjoying the tournament and playing winning tennis.
“Our kids know that I’ve got their back and that we’re here to assist them in any way they need,” Diaz said. “We’re just helping out the best way we can to make this a positive tournament.”
As for the Bulldogs chances of winning a seventh national championship in men’s tennis, Diaz said, “I think our chances are great.”