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Out of any Division I basketball program — men’s or women’s — Syracuse women’s basketball had the largest number of players request to transfer this year: 11 players, eight with more than one year of eligibility remaining. Now we may be finding out why.
In a report by The Athletic, nine former players and 19 former staffers or managers accused head coach Quentin Hillsman of bullying, threats, abuse and unwanted physical contact.
Three former players said they “felt uncomfortable” when Hillsman allegedly kissed their foreheads after talking to them about playing time. One player accused Hillsman of placing his hand on her pelvic region and said he was joking; two others witnessed this occur, according to the report.
Former players and others involved with the team claim that the 50-year-old would yell obscenities at players, yelling, “I’ll f— you up. It’s gonna be your ass if you f— this up,” and similar statements.
Three of the nine players who spoke to The Athletic reported experiencing suicidal thoughts due to the abuse and several others reported seeking therapy.
“I was a great player. I was excited to play for a top program. We were top 10 when I committed, and all I wanted was to thrive,” one former player said. “It’s not just a bad culture or program. It’s so toxic. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your light is, if you’re a positive person, it’s going to break you.”
Syracuse has opened an external investigation into the allegations.
But players say they have previously notified the school about the allegations. According to The Athletic report, one player listed out all her complaints and allegations in an online questionnaire provided to her by a Syracuse administrator. No one ever followed up with her. Another student said that when she scheduled a meeting with administrators to talk about Hillsman’s behavior and why she was leaving the team, no one else showed up to the Zoom.
Sources alleged to The Athletic that Hillsman turned to more severe tactics and put far less emphasis on the players following the Orange’s run to the 2016 national championship game. Several former players and staffers recalled when he flipped a table in the locker room during halftime before telling players, “I don’t give a f— about you.”
In addition, Hillsman is said to have failed to adequately check in on injured or sick players. One former player claimed that Hillsman only contacted her once after a head injury forced her to sit the season out, simply to inform her that he would try to get her an extra year of eligibility. Taleah Washington said that after she was diagnosed as COVID-19-positive, it took her dad calling Hillsman for him to reach out. Washington recently transferred to Old Dominion.
Former players and managers also discussed their discomfort over Hillsman hiring his longtime friend Ronnie Enoch, who had been fired from a coaching job at North Carolina Central after allegations of sexual harassment against a player arose.
Hillsman has had a knack for scoring high-level recruits. Though Hillsman has brought on more top-100 recruits (14) since 2015 than perennial national contenders UConn and South Carolina, he has failed to maintain them on his roster. Nine of these players have left after two or fewer seasons.
After this season, the Orange lost ACC rookie of the year Kamilla Cardoso and leading scorer Kiara Lewis to the transfer portal.
“If I had a problem, I would tell you. We’re fine,” Hillsman said when asked about the exodus.
These are not the first slew of allegations against Hillsman. In 2011, Gary Lampkins, the father of Syracuse player Lynnae Lampkins, filed a Title IX complaint accusing Hillsman of inappropriate conduct and “mental, physical and emotional abuse.” Gary Lampkins said that Syracuse failed to conduct a fair investigation. The outcome of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigation remains unknown. Lynnae Lampkins left the team.
Hillsman joined the Orange as an assistant in 2005 after numerous short coaching stints at prep schools. He was promoted to head coach within one season after former coach Keith Cieplicki resigned amid allegations he had committed misconduct toward staff members, threatened to cut off scholarships and using racist language.
Within two years, Hillsman brought a Syracuse team that had just one winning season in the past 16 years to the NCAA Tournament. However, even then he did not involve himself in creating relationships with his players, instead labelling one of his assistants “the relationship coach.”
Athletic director John Wildhack doubled down on his support for Hillsman and his methods earlier this month in an interview with Syracuse.com.
“I totally support him,” Wildhack said of Hillsman. “I support the values that he has for this program. I support the standards that he holds everyone to, regardless of what your high school ranking was, or how good a player you are or how good a player you aren’t.”
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