Syracuse University begins probe into women’s basketball

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Nearly 10 weeks after Syracuse women’s basketball coach Quentin Hillsman blamed the departure of 11 players on attrition, COVID-19 and the transfer portal, the university announced it is hiring an outside firm to conduct an independent review of the program.

The move announced Tuesday was prompted by allegations of threats, bullying and unwanted physical contact by Hillsman reported by The Athletic, which spoke to nine former players and other staff.

“The allegations … are troubling,” Sarah Scalese, senior associate vice president for communications, said in a statement from the university. “We take these allegations very seriously.”

Scalese said no formal complaints have been made by members of the women’s basketball program and she encouraged anyone who has knowledge or has experienced such conduct to come forward.

Hillsman, who took over in 2006, did not immediately respond to a text message from The Associated Press.

A day after the 11 players announced they were transferring, 6-foot-7 freshman center Kamilla Cardoso, Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year and its top rookie, joined them and did not give a reason for her decision. The Brazilian was the highest-rated recruit in program history. That leaves the Orange likely with only three returning players to go with a solid incoming class and four transfers.

Among those who departed were: Emily Engstler, a key player who excelled as the first player 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, in that order.

Hillsman, who has a record of 319-169 in 15 seasons at Syracuse, said that validated his program.

“We have some seniors that have opportunity to pursue other options,” he 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.”

Two weeks ago during an end-of-year press conference, Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack said he fully supported Hillsman and called the exodus “a sign of the times.”

Point guard Tiana Mangakahia, who sat out the 2019-20 season while recovering from breast cancer surgery, also left the program, but that was expected. She had signed a training camp contract with the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA.

Mangakahia chimed in on social media in defense of Hillsman.

“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. If only I exposed some of my teammates for how they treated me once I was diagnosed with Cancer.”

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More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball

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