Her faith in practice

USF basketball player Andrea Armstrong will practice today for the first time since Aug. 30.

Armstrong, a recent convert to Islam, told the St. Petersburg Times she was forced to quit the team last week after a dispute over religious clothing, which USF coach Jose Fernandez said is not accurate.

Armstrong could not be reached Monday.

“She was never asked to leave the team,” Fernandez said. “That is inaccurate. Andrea quit the team on Monday, Aug. 30. What the St. Petersburg Times reported was inaccurate. She was not dismissed from the team and she was not asked to leave the team. Her reason for leaving the team was that she wanted to pursue her faith.”

Fernandez said Armstrong was back on the team as of Friday after she met with USF officials.

Armstrong told the Times that Fernandez objected when she told him that, to comply with Islamic codes requiring a woman’s skin to be covered, she wanted to wear long pants, long-sleeve shirts and a Muslim headscarf in games to comply with Islamic codes that require that a woman’s skin be covered.

Fernandez said Armstrong will be allowed to practice in the attire that she would like to compete in during the game.

“I’ve always treated everybody the same way — as an athlete,” Fernandez said. “I certainly don’t want her to feel uncomfortable about the situation — and I’m not.”

With Armstrong back on the team, Fernandez said the only issue is whether the NCAA will allow Armstrong to play games wearing clothing that conforms to her religious beliefs.

“The administration is going to work with Andrea and the NCAA to see what she can wear during games,” Fernandez said. “We have welcomed her back as a member of our team. The athletic department has welcomed her back. We’re moving on.

“We’ve got a good basketball team and we’re just trying to focus on the upcoming season.”

A co-captain on last season’s team, Armstrong started in nine and played in 27 of the Bulls’ 29 games. The center, who transferred from Kansas State in 2002, averaged 3.4 points per game in 2003. This season is her last year of eligibility.