“UW Athletics works to promote a safe and welcoming environment for its student-athletes and staff and the aforementioned language used does not align with the values of the athletic department, men’s basketball program or the university,” the statement said.
Helland, who had been placed on administrative leave on Monday, told the Wisconsin State Journal, “I’m devastated that I let the team down and my family down.”
The incident in question occurred during a shoot-around before a Jan. 3 game at Ohio State, according to Helland, who read a statement to the newspaper in which he said, “I was sharing a story from my NBA career and explaining the intensity of a particular athlete, I quoted that individual, and in doing so, repeated a repugnant word. In no way were these my words, and I clearly stated my disapproval. From the beginning, I owned what I said and made apologies to the student-athletes affected.
“I made a mistake in a moment of inattentiveness and for that I have the deepest regret. … I can’t overstate this: I would never do anything — nor have I ever done anything — to intentionally insult or hurt any of our student-athletes."
In its statement, Wisconsin described as “inaccurate” reports that Helland had uttered an epithet at a specific Badgers athlete. “UW has no evidence — not has it been alleged to the athletic department — that Helland directed racially insensitive language toward any member of the men’s basketball team,” the school said.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday that university officials were investigating allegations that Helland directed an epithet toward sophomore guard Kobe King, the team’s second-leading scorer. At the end of January, King announced his intention to transfer away from Wisconsin, saying that he “realized that this program is not the right fit for me as a player and person.”
Helland was among the Badgers coaches King thanked at the time, and on Thursday he told the State Journal that he didn’t think the use of the epithet, which King heard about secondhand, was meant in a malicious way. He said he mentioned it to administrators in response to a question about how the program could improve, while in a meeting to discuss his desire to enter the NCAA transfer portal.
“To be honest, I didn’t want it to go public,” King told the newspaper. “I like Coach E, he’s been good to me, I just thought it was concerning. It was awkward for me for a few days, it was uncomfortable to me.”
Helland, 56, had been with the Badgers’ program for seven years and was Wisconsin’s director of strength and conditioning since 2015. Before that, he served in the same capacity with the Chicago Bulls from 2001 to 2013.