Syracuse University has announced it is parting ways with women's basketball head coach Quentin Hillsman one month removed from a report by The Athletic that first drew attention to the program's mass exodus of players amid claims of mistreatment by the coach.
Based on that report, which included interviews with nine former players and 19 others, including managers and staff, Syracuse commissioned an external investigation. “Based on the nature of these allegations, Syracuse University is engaging an outside firm to conduct an independent review and will take appropriate action based on its outcome,” senior associate vice president for university communications Sarah Scalese said in a statement at the time, as reported Monday by The Daily Orange. “While no formal complaints have been made to date from members of the women’s basketball program, we take these allegations very seriously.”
The Athletic’s reports included descriptions of Hillsman’s mistreatment of female coaches and staff members, including inappropriate language and behavior. One player listed the coach's weakness as “ego, manipulation, controlling, disrespectful to women/girls, anger issues, mood swings, gas-lighting [sic], lying, emotionally abusive, not caring, doesn’t communicate, doesn’t follow through, empty threats (fear tactics), anytime any girl is talked to we are disrespected in some way.”
As reported by The Daily Orange, These allegations are not the first time Hillsman’s behavior has been questioned. In 2011, a Title IX claim against Hillsman for sexual harassment was investigated by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The complaint — filed by Gary Lampkins on behalf of his daughter Lynnae — detailed instances of “mental, physical and emotional abuse” and a text message from Hillsman to Lynnae that said “I love you. I miss you. I can’t wait to see you.”
According to the Associated Press, Syracuse had 12 players enter the transfer portal after last season, and Hillsman blamed their departure on attrition and COVID-19, among other issues.
Among those who departed were: Emily Engstler, who excelled off the bench and led the team in rebounding; starting guard and leading scorer Kiara Lewis; and Amaya Finklea-Guity and Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi. All are staying in the Atlantic Coast Conference — at Louisville, Clemson, Duke and Miami, respectively.
Hillsman, who amassed a record of 319-169 in 15 seasons at Syracuse, said those destinations validated his program, according to the AP, which characterized the coach as "an excellent recruiter who built the program into a solid contender."
“We have some seniors that have opportunity to pursue other options,” Hillsman said in April. “They’re going to schools in our conference. That’s a compliment to us. I’m good. If I had a problem, I would tell you. We’re fine.”
The last player to transfer was 6-foot-7 freshman center Kamilla Cardoso, the ACC defensive player of the year and its top rookie. The Brazilian, who transferred to South Carolina, was the highest-rated recruit in program history.
The parting of ways, and the reasons behind it, are particularly interesting given that AB Today reported in March 2019 on a Daily Orange look at Hillsman's efforts to bolster players' mental health.
The full statement released Monday by SU athletic director John Wildhack reads:
The University has accepted Coach Quentin Hillsman’s resignation. Coach Hillsman and I agreed that parting ways is in the best interest of the University, the program and our student-athletes. We wish him and his family all the best. Interim leadership for the Women’s Basketball Program will be announced in the coming days.
As previously announced, the University retained an external law firm to conduct a review of the program. That review is ongoing, and the Department of Athletics will address issues that are identified at the conclusion of the review.
We remain focused on providing the best experience possible – one that prioritizes the well-being of all student-athletes and positions them for success in competition, in the classroom, in their communities and in life beyond Syracuse University.