Both former players claim Nickelberry verbally and emotionally abused them, ordered them to practice “in a manner that routinely and methodically exceeds what is allowed under NCAA regulations,” and refused to follow through on promises of athletic scholarships.
According to the lawsuit, in the summer of 2013, Nickelberry “guaranteed” Madison “a perpetual scholarship” set to begin in the 2014-15 season but reneged on his promise three separate times, each time assuring Madison he would receive a scholarship beginning the following year. Madison, who is still a student at Howard, left the basketball program in January 2017 and “has never received any funds from an athletic scholarship.”
Tease, whom the lawsuit notes requires special academic support because of a learning disability, signed an athletic scholarship with Howard in or around November 2015. The lawsuit states that “Nickelberry personally ensured that Tease would receive all the academic support required, supplied and subsidized by Howard,” but that Tease never received such accommodations. He left the university in December.
Howard spokeswoman Crystal Brown responded to the complaint in an email. “As a member of the NCAA and MEAC Conference, Howard University is committed to complying with all NCAA and conference rules. Howard University Athletics considers the physical and mental well-being, as well as the academic success of its student-athletes its top priorities. We maintain a rigorous NCAA compliance program that is consistent with other Division I schools, we closely monitor all NCAA interscholastic sports programs and report any known or discovered violations of NCAA rules. While the University does not comment on pending litigation, we can confirm that we plan to vigorously defend the allegations in this complaint.”
According to the lawsuit, Nickelberry ordered his players to participate in an “impermissible” practice and training schedule that violated NCAA regulations, including punitive practices after losses that took place the same day as the game. The lawsuit also states that Nickelberry forced both players to play while injured despite their protestations and warnings from the school’s athletic trainers.
Both Madison and Tease suffered a foot injury called a Jones fracture, which is typically caused by repeated motion, according to the lawsuit. If they refused to play, Nickelberry would “publicly shame” the players in front of the team.
The former players claim their injuries cost them the chance to play professional basketball either in the NBA or overseas. Howard has produced only one NBA player in program history, according to the popular statistical website basketball-reference.com. Larry Spriggs played in the NBA from 1981 to 1986.
Nickelberry, 53, has been the head coach at Howard since 2010 and previously served three seasons in the same position at Hampton University.
Madison played for the prominent high school basketball team Whitney Young in Chicago alongside Jahlil Okafor, who plays for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, and L.J. Peak, who plays professionally in Italy. Tease, according to the lawsuit, was the highest-scoring player in the history of his California high school and “was heavily recruited by top Division I colleges and universities.”
Tease and Madison are seeking “an amount to be determined at trial but believed to be in excess of $9,000,000 in damages, plus attorneys’ fees and costs, and such other and further relief as this Court deems just and proper.” For breach of contract, Madison is also seeking damages that he believes to be in excess of $230,000.