SMU women's basketball coach Travis Mays told his players at the end of a practice during the 2017-18 season that if they weren't going to compete, they might as well kill themselves, players and athletic director Rick Hart told the Dallas Morning News.
"If y'all don't want to get it together, if y'all don't get together and get connected, you might as well go and commit suicide," Mays told players, according to a blog post published in late January by former player Klara Bradshaw.
The report, which cites eight players and was confirmed by Hart, said Mays made the comment after he gathered the team at midcourt following a practice that did not please the coach.
Other players had different recollections of the exact wording, but all told the Morning News that killing themselves was the focus of Mays' rant.
"It's absolutely a term that shouldn't be used in any capacity or any form," Hart told the Morning News.
Bradshaw, who was a senior at the time and whose father died by suicide two years earlier, became emotional and had to be taken away by a trainer. Mays later apologized via text message, which was shown to the Morning News.
After Bradshaw published her blog post, Mays issued a statement.
"It's one of those things where sometimes you can push," Mays, who played three NBA seasons with the Sacramento Kings and the Atlanta Hawks from 1990 to 1993, said as part of the statement. "And it's our job to push people outside of their comfort zones. And sometimes you can say things, whether it's using the wrong verbiage or at the wrong time when you don't need to express some of that."
Players told the Morning News that the 51-year-old Mays, who is 47-64 at SMU during his three-plus seasons, fostered an abusive culture during that 2017-18 season, cutting scholarship players from the team without due reason and threatening players that he would speak negatively to potential future employers.
Former player McKenzie Adams, after Bradshaw made public her blog post, said on Twitter that the 2017-18 season at SMU was "one of the most mentally traumatic experiences ever."
Another player, Dai'ja Thomas, was scolded for "disrespecting [Mays] in his gym, in his home" after she told coaches and trainers that she couldn't run on her injured knee. She said she was medically disqualified after the season and SMU refused to pay for surgery and rehab after it was discovered that there was a significant loss of cartilage.
Hart acknowledged to the Morning News that multiple players met with him about Mays' behavior that season.
"Any time we get feedback, we follow up on it, we discuss it, we share it," Hart told the Morning News. "We try to figure out what's going on, what we need to do differently -- whether it's communication or process or structural."