News Local/State

UI Women’s Basketball Coach ‘Thankful’ For Investigation Results

Fighting Illini Women's Basketball head coach Matt Bollant addresses the media Wednesday at the Ubben Basketball Complex.

Fighting Illini Women's Basketball head coach Matt Bollant addresses the media Wednesday at the Ubben Basketball Complex. (Jeff Bossert/WILL)

The University of Illinois women’s basketball coach says he’s grateful for the results of the school’s independent investigation that found no support on allegations of racism and abuse by former players.  Matt Bollant says he only regrets that the seven former players who have filed a $10-million lawsuit ‘didn’t have a positive experience.’

He called the investigation by a Chicago law firm ‘thorough’ and the first step in moving the women’s basketball program forward.  But Bollant admits being caught off guard by the allegations.

“I don’t think I initially saw a lot of it," he said.  "And that’s something why we need to do a better job making our players feel comfortable in communicating with our staff.  Because there wasn’t much negative feedback throughout the three years here, and throughout my 18 years of coaching.”

Bollant cited the 18,000 documents and 33 people interviewed that resulted from the report by Pugh Jones and Johnson. He didn’t directly respond to findings from the U of I report that described former assistant Mike Divilbiss’ treatment of some players as ‘harsh.’  

He called Divilbiss’ departure from the school ‘a mutual parting of the ways’.

"We have a standard of excellence that we're pursuing, and want to get to," he said.  "We didn't feel like the program was there, and we're trying to build that to do that.  He (Divilbiss) is an old school guy, and a really good basketball coach."

Assistant Illini coach Tianna Kirkland, who’s African-American, said she’ll make a better effort to reach out to players, and get an understanding of their feelings.

"I need to be more in touch with the girls, and really have a better for feeling for exactly feeling, and not just on the surface level," she said.

Kirkland admitted to being 'shocked' by the allegations.

"I'm a minority myself - I've experienced racism myself, in my life, and I never saw anything I thought was racist going on," she said. "I had a lot of conversations with some of those girls, a lot of conversations. It was not brought up."

Earlier this week, Terry Ekl, the attorney representing the former players filing the lawsuit, said the U of I's investigation will have no impact on their legal efforts.  He said Monday he wasn't surprised with the U of I's findings, saying his clients were not expecting a “thorough, unbiased investigation” by a firm hired by the university.