One week after she was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, it has become evident that Loyola’s women’s basketball head coach Sheryl Swoopes has a problem on her hands.
For the second consecutive year, members of the team have decided their time as Ramblers is up. The PHOENIX learned through sources close to Loyola’s women’s basketball program that some of the student-athletes have decided to leave due to displeasure with Swoopes’ treatment of individual players.
All but three student-athletes on the 2015-16 roster — 10 out of 13 players — plan to quit or have already put in requests to be released from their scholarships, according to sources close to the situation. One additional player is expected to leave due to graduation. Among the departing players are redshirt junior standouts Taylor Johnson and Taylor Manuel, who received NCAA and Missouri Valley Conference honors, respectively, during the season.
Loyola’s Athletic Department sent The PHOENIX a statement downplaying the players’ departures.
“Roster turnover is something that affects every NCAA school and is becoming more and more prevalent,” wrote Deputy Director of Athletics Jermaine Truax. “We are fully committed to helping our student-athletes find the right situation for them. We will have the best interest of the student-athlete in mind when it comes to transfer decisions.”
The Athletic Department declined numerous requests by The PHOENIX to make Athletic Director Steve Watson and Swoopes available to discuss further details of the situation.
Loyola Interim President John Pelissero, Ph.D., said he’s aware of the situation, but he declined further comment.
Although roster turnover is expected from year to year with any NCAA Division I team, a mass exodus in consecutive years has left question marks around the women’s basketball program.
After the 2014-15 season, which was marked by a disappointing 6-25 overall record, five members of Loyola’s women’s basketball team left the program to play for other NCAA teams.
At least one of Swoopes’ current players met with Watson last week regarding her future with the program, according to multiple sources. In that meeting, the player expressed her concerns with Swoopes’ demeanor. That player declined to speak with The PHOENIX about that meeting.
Swoopes has a tendency to “cross the line” when dealing with members of the program in regards to their performances and personal lives, according to a source close to the team who asked to remain anonymous.
“She really pushes them to the point of misery and to the point where they shut down,” said the source. “A lot of them feel very trapped about who they can talk to in the Athletic Department because regardless of who they choose, it usually gets back to Sheryl … and I think when it gets to that point … there is no outlet.”
The source also said Swoopes interferes with players’ lives outside of basketball.
A player on the 2015-16 roster who chose to remain anonymous told The PHOENIX that the problem players have with Swoopes isn’t her coaching style, but the way she micromanages players’ lives. The player said Swoopes shares personal information about student-athletes with the team, recruits and members of the Athletic Department.
The player said Swoopes has mistreated the team since she became the program’s head coach in 2013.
“[Players have had injuries before], and she’s basically kind of mocked [them] like, ‘Oh, well if you can’t stand, you can’t run, you can’t jump, how are you going to play basketball?’” the player said. “[The entire coaching staff] also laughs at players. I’ve seen them one time laughing at the way one of our players ran [and] laughing at the way one of our players shoots.”
The player told The PHOENIX that student-athletes in the program have felt stuck in their current situation.
“A lot of people are scared to say anything about it because we don’t feel like anything is going to be done about it,” said the player. “We don’t feel like the Athletic Department handles these situations very seriously involving our program … Nobody pays attention or cares to change anything. Something has to happen.”
Last season, first-year player Courtney Williams decided not to return to Loyola due to off-court problems with Swoopes.
“It was a lot of stuff off the court that [Swoopes] made difficult, but as far as her coaching style, it wasn’t really a factor,” Williams told The PHOENIX last April. “It was a lot of stuff that was unrelated to basketball.”
Both Williams and Swoopes declined to go into further detail about that specific situation at that time.
The anonymous player on the 2015-16 roster said a majority of the student-athletes would prefer to continue their careers at Loyola, but they can’t keep facing these issues.
“I would love to stay here under a new coach and be able to play with some of my teammates,” said the player. “When you come here, you think, ‘This is where I’m going to spend … my four years.’ But to have that be cut short because you can’t even play the sport you love without being stressed out — that should never happen. You shouldn’t be stressed out by something you love.”
Swoopes was in Houston for personal reasons until April 11. Her absence delayed the players’ requests to be released from their scholarships, according to Loyola’s Athletic Department. It’s unknown whether meetings have been scheduled with the players to discuss the possibility of releasing them from their scholarships.
Swoopes is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time WNBA champion. She was also named the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player three times, the most in the league’s history. Swoopes completed her third season heading the women’s basketball program with a 14-16 overall record. The Ramblers lost in the quarterfinals of the MVC tournament in early March, which ended their season.
Swoopes was one of 10 members elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016 on April 4. She headlined the class alongside former NBA stars Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming.