In late June, the Athletic reported a litany of allegations against Hillsman after speaking with nine former Syracuse players and 19 others, including team managers and staff members. Per the report, the players and others accused Hillsman of “regularly threatening players verbally, sometimes using vulgar language; making players 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 punishing sprints.”
After the Athletic’s report, Wildhack announced the school had partnered with an outside law firm to investigate the women’s basketball program. He said in the statement Monday that the review is ongoing.
Syracuse hired Hillsman in 2006, and he transformed what had been a middling program into a national contender. Of the Orange’s 12 all-time NCAA tournament appearances, nine took place under Hillsman’s watch, including a run to the national championship game in 2016, the Orange’s only trip past the second round of the tournament.
But there were signs of trouble well before the Athletic report. In 2011, former Syracuse player Lynnae Lampkins filed a Title IX sexual harassment complaint against Hillsman with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. She accused Hillsman of inappropriate texting and touching.
“I left the team because I couldn’t be around him,” Lampkins told USA Today at the time. “He would slap butts and chest-bump, and I was very uncomfortable with that.”
Hillsman denied the allegations, and a Syracuse spokesman said at the time that “there was no substance to the allegations and no basis for action to be taken against coach Hillsman” after conducting its own investigation. The outcome of the Department of Education complaint is unclear.
Less than a month after Syracuse’s loss to Connecticut in this year’s NCAA tournament, 11 players had left the program, the most of any Division I women’s or men’s program. Kamilla Cardoso, the ACC freshman of the year, and Kiara Lewis, the team’s leading scorer, were among the players who left.
“We have some seniors that have opportunities to pursue other options,” Hillsman said when asked about the transfers. “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.”
Only three of the players who left were seniors taking advantage of the temporary extension of eligibility that has been granted by the NCAA amid the coronavirus pandemic. The other eight had more than one year of eligibility remaining.
Syracuse’s players told the Athletic that Hillsman’s ego grew after the 2016 run to the national title game and that he stopped caring about their well-being. Some of them also said they tried to warn school officials about Hillsman’s contact, only to be met with silence.