Where’s Ruthie? Nigerian assistant watches US win from hotel

Jul 26, 2021, 4:49 PM | Updated: Jul 27, 2021, 5:02 am

SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — Nigeria assistant coach Ruthie Bolton could only watch and yell at the television in a Japanese hotel room Tuesday as the Nigerians battled the U.S. women’s basketball team.

The former U.S. Olympian and two-time gold medalist has been quarantined since arriving in Japan last Friday, stuck in a hotel unable to join her team.

Bolton doesn’t have COVID; she has an Olympic credentialing issue.

“From a distance watching from afar really was hard playing the team I played for, USA …,” Bolton told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I wanted to be there. I played for the USA team.”

That is an understatement. She did a lot more than just play.

Now 54, Bolton won Olympic gold medals with the U.S. in 1996 and 2000 along with a world championship. Her former Olympic teammate Dawn Staley is coaching the Americans, the first Black female head coach the U.S. women have ever had. Bolton has been an assistant the past six months with Nigeria.

Tuesday was a game Bolton had circled.

But instead of helping Nigeria coach Otis Hughley Jr. on the sidelines, Bolton watched the game with two other assistants and the team doctor from their hotel — unable to yell loud enough for the guards to hear her wanting them to pick up Sue Bird quickly on defense.

“I know the circumstances,” said Bolton, who has been spending the time reading and writing scouting reports from watching games on TV. “I know that it was nobody on the team’s fault. It was just one of those things … it was tough.”

Hughley, who handled the game by himself, had been hopeful Tuesday morning Bolton and the others would be credentialed in time to work the game in person. Now the Nigerians have until Friday’s game against France to straighten out the credential paperwork.

“It’s like starting your boxing career and they tell you you’re fighting Muhammad ALI (USA) in his prime,” Hughley said. “Now that ain’t something you’re looking for. ‘I want to box, but I don’t want to box that bad’.”

Nigeria is trying to become the first African nation to win an Olympic game in women’s basketball since 2004 when the team went 1-5 in Greece. No team from the continent has won a game since. That’s one reason why Hughley wanted her on his coaching staff.

He was an assistant coach at Auburn when he saw the SEC Storied documentary “Mighty Ruthie” about Bolton’s life as the 16th of 20 children from McLain, Mississippi, and a survivor of domestic violence in her first marriage.

After Nigeria clinched its second Olympic berth ever, Hughley called and offered the former Auburn point guard and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer a spot on his staff.

While he valued her basketball IQ, Hughley also wanted Bolton to share her life story, connect with the players. Bolton accepted the job and has been working with the Nigerians the past six months, including games in Belgium and Spain in February.

Hughley credits Bolton with creating a closeness and chemistry among the players.

“No way you can buy it. Ruthie’s presence, man, Ruthie is the embodiment of what they’re going through now, what they hope to live through later and you look at those girls, they look at Ruthie and say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be like that,” Hughley said.

Nigerian captain Adaora Elonu agrees, saying they learned so much about her from the documentary. “We’re like, ‘This is our coach?’ It’s incredible to have her with us.”

In Japan, it’s been via video chats and messages.

Added Elonu: “Hopefully she’ll be with us soon.”

Bolton, who enjoys working out and isn’t shy about showing off how fit she is, apparently has a green Nigerian shirt ready for when that time comes — thanks to a pair of scissors.

“I’ve seen that so many times,” Staley said of her former U.S. teammate when the teams were in Las Vegas. “I walked up to her, I hugged her, and I was just like, ‘Only Ruthie would cut up a nice Nigerian T-shirt for a fashion statement.'”

Bolton wants to make another kind of statement at the Tokyo Games.

___

AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this report.

___

More Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Orlando Magic's Paolo Banchero (5) looks to get around Milwaukee Bucks' Jrue Holiday, left, during ...
Associated Press

Paolo’s Diary: Magic rookie says he’s doing much learning

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Orlando Magic rookie and No. 1 overall draft pick Paolo Banchero is doing a periodic diary with The Associated Press this season to chronicle his first year in the NBA. This is his second installment, the first since the regular season started. The Magic are an NBA-worst 5-20 through the first 25 […]
1 day ago
Brazil's Neymar celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the World Cup round of 16 soccer m...
Associated Press

World Cup Viewer’s Guide: Quarterfinalists bid for title

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — After non-stop soccer for the past two weeks, the World Cup is taking a small break. There will be two days of rest before the quarterfinals start in Qatar with at least one surprising team still in contention to win soccer’s biggest prize. Morocco produced the latest upset in a tournament […]
1 day ago
Spain's players react after the penalty shootout at the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between ...
Associated Press

Young Spain squad and its ‘tiki-taka’ stumble at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Spain lost to Morocco 3-0 in a penalty shootout in the round of 16 at the World Cup on Tuesday, failing to make it to the quarterfinals for the third straight time since winning its last world title in South Africa in 2010. La Roja also lost in a shootout in […]
1 day ago
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo walks during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Portugal a...
Associated Press

Ronaldo loses Portugal spot to sully World Cup journey

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — So, the dream is still alive for Cristiano Ronaldo. Soccer’s most prolific modern-day scorer might yet, at the age of 37 and probably playing in his last World Cup, claim the one major title to elude him in a career like no other. It didn’t quite feel that way, though, as […]
1 day ago
Switzerland's midfielder Granit Xhaka, right, and Switzerland's midfielder Denis Zakaria, left, rea...
Associated Press

Switzerland falls again to first World Cup knockout punch

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Switzerland exited the World Cup at the round of 16 stage, just as it usually does in the modern era. A 6-1 rout by Portugal on Tuesday left little space for feeling that progress was made, even if the squad was hit by a bout of sickness in Qatar. Switzerland’s quest […]
1 day ago
Morocco's head coach Walid Regragui is thrown in the air at the end of the World Cup round of 16 so...
Associated Press

The next World Cup will jump to 48 teams. Is bigger better?

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The next World Cup will be the biggest ever after world soccer body FIFA took the leap from a 32-team field to 48 teams in 2026. It means more of soccer’s so-called “little teams” that didn’t make it to Qatar will be given a chance of a lifetime when the tournament […]
1 day ago
Where’s Ruthie? Nigerian assistant watches US win from hotel