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JOAN VENNOCHI

A bully, or a booster

Boston University’s women’s head basketball coach Kelly Greenberg coaches a game earlier this month.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Boston University’s women’s head basketball coach Kelly Greenberg spoke to her team during a game earlier this month.

Who’s the real Kelly Greenberg?

The two sides to her story sound like parallel worlds of a college hoops universe.

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According to a recent Globe report, Greenberg, the head coach of the Boston University women’s basketball team, is a bully who drove four players to quit this year’s team. Two more former players came forward after that report, alleging that Greenberg was also emotionally and verbally abusive to them. Their complaints echo similar ones made by players in 2008.

But there’s another version to the story of Greenberg’s coaching career, which touched scores of young women over a 20-year span. To tell it, supporters started a website — therealkellygreenberg.wordpress.com. It presents testimonials from former players and includes a letter of support from nine current members of the BU women’s basketball team that was sent to BU administrators.

“She is someone I really look up to and admire,” said 2014 captain Danielle Callahan, who hopes to coach basketball some day. “I take a lot of lessons from her. Not only lessons from coaching, also life lessons.” Noting that her basketball career was not all smooth sailing — she sat out her sophomore year and tore her ACL the following year — Callahan said Greenberg’s level of caring “was like having a second mom there.”

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Greenberg, who just completed her 10th season as BU’s head coach, came to Boston from the University of Pennsylvania, where she guided the Quakers to two Ivy League titles. Given the recent allegations about her, BU (my alma mater) is reviewing her performance.

The culture of coaching is changing with the times, reflecting a new generation of athletes brought up on more positive reinforcement. The meanness accepted years ago as motivational is now challenged by male and female players. Last year, at Rutgers University, Mike Rice was fired as men’s basketball coach after players complained about physical and mental abuse. After Rutgers hired Julie Hermann as athletic director to restore the program’s credibility, accusations surfaced about her verbal abuse of volleyball players whom she coached 16 years ago at the University of Tennessee.

“For sure, I was an intense coach, but there is a vast difference between high intensity and abuse,” said Hermann, after those old bullying allegations made fresh headlines.

Players who back Greenberg say they know the difference, too, and never witnessed anything they would define as demeaning or harassing.

“Basketball is stressful,” said Callahan, the 2014 captain. “There’s times I’ve had to listen to frustrations of teammates, but there was never anything out of the ordinary.”

Alex Young, a 2012 graduate who played with some of the women who are critical of Greenberg, said, “I can’t speak for what was said behind closed doors. But, no I never saw anything you could consider bullying.” Added Young, who now coaches at the University of Chicago: “Coach Greenberg was concerned about making us respectable, better people. She was not just concerned about winning games. She was a mentor. She really cared about us. Everyone on the team knew that . . . She was tough in a lot of different ways, but none of the ways weren’t constructive.”

Like Callahan, Young was a starter and captain. But Kasie Cabacio, another 2012 graduate, blew out her knee her freshman year, and the following year was suspended from BU “for young, dumb mistakes.” With her scholarship in jeopardy, she said Greenberg helped get her back on the court. But she wasn’t a star, scoring only 11 career points. Still, Cabacio said, “The life lessons that Coach Greenberg taught me, I carry with me in my day-to-day life . . . She single-handedly changed the course of my life.”

“She’s a terrific coach,” said Caroline Stewart, another 2012 graduate, who is now enroute to play basketball in Ireland, after working as the team’s 2013 video coordinator. “The best part about her, she doesn’t just care about you as a basketball player. She cares about you as a person.” Added Stewart’s mother, Liz: “Kelly Greenberg is not what they’re putting out there. I’m not buying it. She’s a great coach and even a better person.’’

Who’s the real Kelly Greenberg? It depends on whom you ask.

For now, accusations made by young women whose lives she touched through basketball may forever alter her own.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
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