June 30, 2021 

Why Syracuse University is investigating women’s basketball coach Quentin Hillsman

Former players share varied experiences with 15-year head coach

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Syracuse University has opened an external investigation into allegations of threats, bullying and inappropriate behavior by women’s basketball head coach Quentin Hillsman.

The Athletic’s Chantel Jennings and Dana O’Neil released a report on Tuesday morning sharing information obtained from interviews with nine former players as well as 19 others, including team managers and staff members, alleging that the head coach created a “pernicious culture” which contributed to staff and player retention issues. Since 2018, 20 student-athletes have transferred from the program including 11 players after the 2020-21 season alone, more than any other men’s or women’s Division I program.

Allegations against Hillsman include use of threatening and sometimes vulgar language, unwanted physical contact and refusal to provide water breaks during conditioning exercises. The 15-year head coach also allegedly created and filled a staff position for friend Ronnie Enoch, who was dismissed from a previous coaching job after being accused of sexually harassing a player. Enoch reportedly made multiple Syracuse players and staff uncomfortable during his time on the Syracuse staff.

The article also pointed to condescending treatment of female coaches as compared to male coaches, including silencing of female coaches altogether during practices. Team managers also reported mistreatment, including the inability to leave the hotel without permission during team trips.

“I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know really. I’d never worked anywhere else,’’ a manager said in The Athletic’s article. “I thought maybe this is how it was. We’d go on the road and talk to other managers and you’d put the puzzle together, that this wasn’t normal.”

Syracuse University released the following statement in response to the article:

The allegations reported in The Athletic today are troubling. 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.

While no formal complaints have been made to date from members of the women’s basketball program, we take these allegations very seriously. We ask any individual who has knowledge of or has experienced this kind of conduct to come forward. Syracuse University remains focused on the well-being and success of our student-athletes.

Former Syracuse players, including Tiana Mangakahia took to social media to share their opinions on the allegations in the article.

In an interview following the release of the article Mangakahia, who sat out the 2019-20 season with breast cancer before returning for her final season in 2020-21, elaborated on her defense of Hillsman:

I felt really sad for Coach Q and I felt like players who didn’t get what they want are now accusing him of things and making him look bad just because they didn’t get the minutes that they wanted while they were at Syracuse.

I played professionally in Australia. I had a lot of experience. He never did anything that I thought was excessively rude…I do feel like some of this stuff is made up. They must have just been jealous or they’re upset because I know girls that were complaining throughout the year I was sick [with cancer]. I was like, dude, you’re not good enough.

Another former Syracuse player, 2016-17 ACC Player of the Year Alexis Peterson, a member of the Orange’s 2016 Final Four team also tweeted a response to the article.

Los Angeles Sparks guard Brittney Sykes, who graduated from Syracuse in 2017 and played for Hillsman, wore a Syracuse sweatshirt to a Sparks media availability shortly after The Athletic article’s release yesterday. Her apparel led many media members to believe Sykes was making a statement in regards to Hillsman’s conduct; Sykes, however, clarified Wednesday afternoon via her Twitter account.

Hillsman, whose contract runs through the 2024 season, was hired to coach the Syracuse women’s basketball program in 2006.  He didn’t indicate any problems within the program during a recent postseason news conference.

“For us, it’s about being athletic, it’s about wanting to come in every day and work and more importantly, just wanting to be here,” Hillsman said. “That’s all we’ve talked about from day one. It’s just having players that want to be here and the transfer portal has allowed people to make some decisions to move on, and there are a wide variety of reasons on why people have chosen to move on.”

The university has not released any further details about the investigation.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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