Where women's basketball recruits draw the line for screaming and cursing coaches
Jordan Cruz remembers the first time a basketball coach screamed at her. She needed to get her act together, the coach said, substituting an expletive for the word "act."
Cruz was in sixth grade.
"He would make rude comments, and I would break down crying," the 5-foot-10 junior guard at McClatchy (Sacramento, California) said. "He would yell all the time. It would kind of shock you."
On top of that, an assistant coach repeatedly blamed Cruz for losses. Things got so bad that she quit that team because she "couldn't handle getting yelled at anymore."
Here's the catch: Despite being the target of what she called verbal abuse, Cruz is grateful.
"Every coach has a different style," said Cruz, who is set to take an official recruiting trip to Utah on Saturday. "There are some kids who can take it the right way, and some who take it completely wrong.
"I learned that if coaches are yelling, it's usually because they care about you, and they're trying to make you better.
"I'm actually kind of thankful in a way. As I've gotten older, I've gotten yelled at, and I don't take it personally anymore."
Screaming coaches go back in basketball about as far as fast breaks. But in the past month, coaching conduct has come under the microscope like rarely before.
It started with Connie Yori resigning at Nebraska amid a two-month investigation by the school into allegations she mistreated players, including bullying them and intimidating them. Yori, the national coach of the year in 2010, denied all allegations.
At Duke, the human resources department is reviewing whether coach Joanne P. McCallie has mistreated players after three players, including top scorer Azura Stevens, decided to transfer.
At Loyola, 10 of the 12 returning players on the roster have transferred or put in requests to leave the program headed by coach Sheryl Swoopes, a four-time WNBA champion and a three-time Olympic gold medalist.
Illinois, meanwhile, settled a lawsuit for $375,000, in which seven former players accused coach Matt Bollant of creating a racially hostile workplace. Three weeks ago, star Chatrice White, who averaged 18.3 points and 9.4 rebounds last season, became the second player in a week to leave the program.
At Iowa State, former player Nikki Moody sued coach Bill Fennelly, the university and the state for alleged racial discrimination and retaliation. Moody said she was repeatedly called a "thug" and labeled a selfish player despite being the program's career leader in assists. Fennelly says he won't change his style.
With apologies to Captain Obvious, the question is: Why now?
Are coaches lashing out under the brighter spotlight on women's basketball as more media -- traditional and social -- focus on the sport? Has that invisible line between acceptable coaching tactics and abusive behavior moved? Is it a combination of both?
The next wave of college stars has some strong opinions.
Sierra Campisano, a 6-3 senior forward at Torrey Pines (San Diego) who has signed with Oregon, said she appreciated Yori's coaching style and had Nebraska among her top five schools.
"There's a fine line between verbal abuse and getting the best out of players," Campisano said. "I think it's OK to be hard on a kid. If you are a Division I player, you should be able to take a coach yelling at you. That's why you were recruited -- to help the team.
"Obviously, there could be things happening that I'm not aware of, but if it's just intensity from a coach, that's not a bad thing."
Campisano was asked what would cross the line in her mind.
"I know there's a line, but I haven't seen it [crossed]," she said. "I have tough skin, I'm competitive, and I want to win. I want a coach who is intense and passionate."
Harvard recruit and McDonald's All American Jeannie Boehm, on the other hand, says she knows exactly where the line is and has seen coaches cross it. Often. And recently.
As a potential recruit, Boehm was allowed to watch college practices, and she estimates verbal abuse was evident in about 5 to 10 percent of the workouts she observed.
"There is a right and a wrong way to correct a player," said Boehm, a 6-3 senior forward at New Trier (Winnetka, Illinois). "As long as the correction is done in a constructive fashion and in the player's best interests, that's the line."
Oregon State signee Mikayla Pivec never saw anything quite like that, maybe because she knew exactly what she was looking for in a coach.
I don't want a coach to pat me on the back every time I make a mistake.Cara Ursin
"Having a supportive coach is important," said Pivec, a 5-9 senior guard at Lynwood (Washington). "I think positive reinforcement is better than the alternative.
"Screaming to get a player's attention is OK, but coaches should stay away from abusive language and threats."
Nadia Fingall, a 6-3 senior forward at Choctawhatchee (Fort Walton Beach, Florida) who signed with Stanford, said she appreciates coaches who hold her to high standards.
"My club coaches were tough on me," Fingall said. "Some girls don't react well. But I respond to tough love.
"I've had a coach grab my jersey and pull me down to her level. Not to hurt me, but just so we could see eye to eye. I was cool with it."
Cara Ursin, a 5-7 junior point guard at Destrehan (Louisiana), tends to agree with Fingall.
"I don't want a coach to pat me on the back every time I make a mistake," Ursin said. "If that happens, no progress is being made."
As for colorful language, Ursin and Fingall make distinctions. "Cursing and cursing a player out are completely different," Ursin said.
Location matters, too.
"Cursing in a huddle, maybe," Fingall said. "But it's not right if you are cussing out in the open where everyone can hear.
"My family and I talk about on-stage, off-stage. Sometimes, you should hold back until you get into a huddle or a practice where it is a little more appropriate."
Ursin said half the blame for what is going on in these cases has to go to the players, who might lack discipline.
"If you have to be corrected more than twice [for bad behavior], that goes beyond coaching," said Ursin, who is undeclared. "That goes to what's going on in your life and parenting.
"In college, you should know better. You are practically a grown-up. I see kids doing whatever they want, and I'm like, 'Are you serious?' These days, parents put it into their kids' heads that they are all superstars, and when a player gets yelled at, they get their feelings hurt."
Still, coaches need to tailor their approaches, Ursin said. "It goes back to knowing your players. A coach has to know which players he can yell at. He has to know how to build them up so that they can be effective and not be crushed."
Fingall said the current atmosphere in coaching has made her ponder her long-term future more than her short-term future.
"A lot of people have told me I would make a good coach," Fingall said. "But after hearing what's been going on ... I don't know."