Report: SMU players detail 'mentally traumatic' abusive culture under coach Travis Mays

SMU head coach Travis Mays during an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

SMU women’s basketball coach Travis Mays told his players after a 2017-18 practice that if they weren’t going to compete, they may as well kill themselves, eight people at practice told Sam Blum of the Dallas Morning News.

SMU athletic director Rick Hart also told the News the coach made the comment and Mays acknowledged it in a statement after the team’s last game.

The incident came to light when Klara Bradshaw, a journalism major and senior for the 17-18 season, wrote about it on her blog in January. The reports detail an abusive culture under Mays, who played for the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks from 1990-1993.

Report: Mays tells students to kill themselves

According to the Dallas Morning News, eight people at practice described the incident and while they remembered differently the exact words Mays used, they all said he suggested they kill themselves if they didn’t want to compete.

From Bradshaw’s blog post, emphasis hers:

After that meeting, in a practice a few days later, the HC in the post-practice huddle said something that still rattles me to this day and still remember it word for word. 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.”

Hart acknowledged the statement was made, telling the News “it’s absolutely a term that shouldn’t be used in any capacity or form.”

Mays, 51, declined to comment, but made a statement after the team’s last home game. Via the Dallas Morning News:

“It’s one of those things where sometimes you can push,” Mays 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.”

Bradshaw shares bad culture set by Mays

Bradshaw said in her blog post she was excited for the season, her first under a returning coach at SMU, but in October things started to sour when two full-scholarship seniors were cut and another went down with a knee injury. She said Mays started lofting “verbal teardowns” at the “leftovers,” the players he didn’t recruit, but she said those type of “pink flags” can be normal in college.

As time went on, those “little pink flags started to deepen in color, and more harsh comments and actions started to take place,” she wrote.

When Mays referenced suicide, Bradshaw said she burst into tears. Her father had died by suicide and she talked openly about it, teammate Alicia Froling told the Morning News, so it wasn’t a secret. A trainer took her to another room after the incident as Mays asked why she was crying.

Per the News, Mays later apologized to Bradshaw via a text message:

“Excuse the poor judgement of words,” he wrote. “Sorry to upset you. That wasn’t my intention.”

Culture issues in SMU program

The issues in the women’s basketball program under Mays, who is in his fourth season, go beyond that one incident, according to Bradshaw and the Morning News.

Former player McKenzie Adams called it “one of the most mentally traumatic experiences ever” on Twitter.

Players were never told why teammate were kicked off the team and they said Mays created a divide between the freshmen and seniors in meetings, per the report. Team meetings would go longer than three hours, forcing practice to be canceled, they said.

Mays created an abusive culture by threatening to speak negatively to potential future employers — a factor that guided Bradshaw’s telling of her story — and keeping them from being honored for their contributions to the program, the Morning News reported. He called players “disgusting” and “trash,” players said. Some players reportedly filed complaints with Hart; Bradshaw said she met with him directly to share notes taken throughout the season. Family members also met with higher-ups, per the Morning News.

SMU made it to the third round of the WNIT in 2016-17 following a 19-15 season. The team was 10-20 in Bradshaw’s senior campaign the next year and is 47-64 under Mays overall. They’re currently 9-11, including 3-5 in the American Athletic Conference.

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