Parents of Illinois players don't believe allegations against coach

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The parents of a current University of Illinois women's basketball player and an incoming recruit said Thursday that they don't believe the allegations made by seven former players in a lawsuit this week accusing coaches of creating racial hostility.

But the plaintiffs' attorney said an eighth former player has asked to join the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court, the former players accuse coach Matt Bollant and former assistant coach Mike Divilbiss, who are white, of treating black players poorly to try to drive them off the team and doing the same to white players who supported them.

The lawsuit accuses the coaches of holding segregated practices known as "the dog pound" for less-favored players, using more severe discipline for black players, barring white and black players from rooming together and using derogatory terms for black players, among other things, since Bollant was hired in 2012.

It names the university, athletic director Mike Thomas, Bollant, Divilbiss and university trustees. The ex-players seek at least $10 million in damages.

Bob White's daughter, Chatrice White, was Illinois' top player last season as a freshman. Scott Kirkpatrick's daughter, Jaelyne Kirkpatrick, is joining the team this fall. Both men say they believe coach Bollant and Divilbiss are being wrongly accused.

"Did I ever see Mike or Matt (treat the players poorly)? No," said Bob White, who said he was at occasional practices last season and at a number of games.

His daughter, who is white, plans to rejoin the team "if the administration allows (Bollant) to coach," Bob White said.

Jaelyne Kirkpatrick, who is black, chose Illinois in part because of Bollant and Divilbiss, Scott Kirkpatrick said.

"Our overall impression is that a number of players who left the organization are attempting to poison the well as they leave," he said.

But the attorney for the former players, Terry Ekl, said former player Kierra Morris could be added to the lawsuit next week. Morris told The News-Gazette in Champaign on Thursday that she now believes she was ostracized after an injury in the 2012-13 season because she is black.

Five of the former players who sued are black; two are white.

Scott Kirkpatrick on Thursday also disputed that the "dog pound" practices were segregated or intended to target out-of-favor players. During a recruiting visit, he and his daughter saw those practices and were told those practices were intended to get players who were playing fewer minutes more court time.

"It was not divided on racial lines," Kirkpatrick said.

University Chancellor Phyllis Wise has said the school takes the allegation seriously but had hoped the players would wait for an investigation now being conducted by a law firm the university hired. The investigation began after some of the former players' parents wrote to the university in May with similar allegations.

Meanwhile, text messages between one parent who wrote to the university and the coaches indicate the three had a friendly relationship until at least earlier this year. The messages were obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request.

Thomas Grusecki regularly exchanged friendly text messages with Bollant and sometimes Divilbiss in 2013 until early in 2015, records show. Grusecki invited them to golf tournaments, sent numerous political jokes about President Barack Obama and wished them good luck on the court.

The last message was to Bollant on Feb. 10, 2015, wishing for "a nice win."

Grusecki didn't respond to requests for comment, but Ekl said Grusecki stopped texting the coaches after seeing Divilbiss engage in "irrational behavior" at a team event before a Feb. 8 game.

Divilbiss left his job in May, after the initial allegations, and has not responded to several requests for comment. None of the other defendants have responded to requests for comments.

The lawsuit adds to this year's stream of accusations against the school's sports programs over player treatment. The law firm is also investigating a complaint from a former football player who says his injuries weren't properly handled, and a former soccer player has sued the school over the handling of her concussions.


This story has been corrected to show that the players' parents made their comments Thursday.