Mississippi adds women’s basketball coach who faced bullying allegations

Mississippi adds women’s basketball coach who faced bullying allegations

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 1

Mississippi women’s basketball Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin added to her coaching staff, hiring an assistant who resigned three years ago as Syracuse’s head coach over allegations of bullying and threatening players and behaving improperly toward them.

McPhee-McCuin said her decision to hire Quentin Hillsman was partly because she had known him “for over 20 years.”

But in 2021, nine former players and 19 others, including staff and team managers, told reporters for the Athletic of incidents that included threatening players verbally, sometimes with vulgarities; making them uncomfortable by kissing their foreheads; hiring a staff member previously accused of sexual harassment who made players and managers uncomfortable; and refusing players’ requests for water after running sprints.

An outside firm was hired by Syracuse to investigate the allegations, revealing that “a concerning number of players and managers who came forward described an unhealthy environment and culture,” although a number of players had positive experiences.

The program had one of the highest transfer rates in the country, with 12 players transferring from it after the 2020-21 season. That group included Kamilla Cardoso, who transferred to South Carolina after her freshman season.

Other former players, including Tiana Mangakahia, defended Hillsman, Mangakahia tweeting in 2021, “It’s sad when you don’t get what you want (minutes/contracts after college) you accuse others of things to make them look bad.” A spokesperson for Mississippi told the Clarion-Ledger in a statement that McPhee-McCuin had “firsthand knowledge” of Hillsman’s character and that others vouched for him.

“As with all new campus hires, the university conducted its standard vetting procedure on Coach Hillsman, including a comprehensive background check. Additionally, our coaching staff has maintained a close relationship with Coach Hillsman for decades and knows firsthand the type of coach and person that he is,” the statement said.

“Others in the industry have expressed the same sentiment on his high character and productive contributions at past institutions. From Coach Hillsman’s arrival on our campus, it has been evident that he is not only an outstanding coach but a family man that will make a positive impact on our program and community.”

Hillsman had a 319-169 record over 15 seasons at Syracuse, leading the team to the kind of success the men’s team had long experienced. The Orange advanced to the NCAA tournament eight times and to the national championship game, losing to U-Conn. in 2016. He was an assistant coach with the Orange for one year and also was an assistant at Alabama, American, Siena and St. Mary’s (Md.). He was a high school coach at the Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C., Laurinburg Institute (N.C.), and Newport School in Silver Spring, Md. A Suitland, Md., native, he graduated from St. Mary’s College in 1993 after leading the Seahawks to two Capital Athletic Conference championships.

McPhee-McCuin, who was named the Rebels’ coach in 2018, cited Hillsman’s success and her a long relationship with him as a reason for hiring him.

“I am very pleased to be able to hire a coach with the pedigree and experience of Quentin Hillsman,” she said in a statement. “He is an excellent teacher of the game and also a strong recruiter at both the national and international levels. I have known Quentin for over 20 years, and I am confident that he will be a tremendous addition to my coaching staff.”

Former players told the Athletic a different story, saying he often threatened them using profanity. “The way he threatened us, like we all knew he would never physically harm us, but he’d always be talking about beating our a—-,” one unnamed former player said. “Like, ‘I’ll f— you guys up. I’ll f— you up. It’s gonna be your a– if you f— this up.’”

One unnamed player told the Athletic she felt violated after Hillsman wrapped his arms around her from behind, placing his hands near her pelvic region before brushing it off as a joke in an incident witnessed by two players.

Kelsey Bone, who played at South Carolina and Texas A&M and formerly in the WNBA, tweeted her surprise at Mississippi’s hire.

ESPN’s Michael Voepel, who covers women’s college basketball, the WNBA and volleyball, called the hire “distressingly irresponsible.”

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