One basketball player at Boston University said she felt so emotionally damaged by her coach she considered suicide.
Another player said the coach, Kelly Greenberg, treated her so poorly she sought mental health care. And two other players said Greenberg’s emotional abuse ruined their love of the sport.
All four women walked away from the BU women’s basketball team this academic year, an exodus that has renewed questions about Greenberg’s treatment of her student-athletes — and her future at the school.
BU has launched an evaluation of Greenberg’s coaching performance, including an inquiry into the allegations of emotional abuse, according to a school official.
All four women were attending BU on $60,000-a-year athletic scholarships.
“We have been made aware of issues and concerns about Coach Greenberg, and we’re taking a very serious look at them from both inside and outside of athletics,’’ BU spokesman Colin Riley said.
Greenberg faced similar complaints seven years ago, when most of her players reported to BU’s athletic director that Greenberg routinely engaged in unwarranted and damaging personal attacks against them.
Of the four players who recently left the team, two walked away from their scholarships, another is scheduled to graduate in May, and the fourth remains in school, her financial status to be determined.
“I was so grateful to go to such a prestigious and expensive school and be given a full scholarship to play there,’’ said Dana Theobald, a former star at West Springfield High School, who withdrew in October. “I arrived feeling very confident and motivated. Then I felt bullied, threatened, and emotionally abused by the coach. By the time I left, she had demolished me as a person.’’
Greenberg, who completed her 10th season as BU’s head coach Thursday, declined through a school spokesman to be interviewed. She is in the final year of a contract extension she received after guiding the Terriers to a 25-8 record in the 2008-09 season.
The other departed players — Melissa Gallo, Katie Poppe, and Dionna Joynes — said they experienced varying degrees of emotional abuse from Greenberg.
“Giving up a $60,000-a-year scholarship is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,’’ said Joynes, who went home to Maryland in October. “I hate that I’m not in school, but it had to be done. My spirit was broken.’’
Greenberg finished the season with a depleted roster of only nine players after the departures. The team posted a record of 13-20, Greenberg’s worst at BU. Riley declined to comment on her future at the school.
Greenberg, 46, has been credited with positively influencing many players through the years. She has been praised by leaders at the University of Pennsylvania, where she guided the Quakers to two Ivy League titles as head coach from 1999-2004, and Holy Cross, where she served for seven years, finishing as the associate head coach.
‘Giving up a $60,000-a-year scholarship is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I hate that I’m not in school, but it had to be done. My spirit was broken.’Dionna Joynes, former BU basketball player
A couple of Greenberg’s top players this year also were said to support her, but the school declined to make them available for interviews.
Personality clashes between coaches and players are not uncommon. But the players who left the team this year echoed complaints that Greenberg had previously faced at BU.
In 2008, Greenberg became the subject of a Globe story after two scholarship players — Jacy Schulz and Brianne Ozimok — walked off, saying they no longer could tolerate her mistreatment.
The school conducted an internal review and informed Schulz’s parents that the complaints “helped Coach Greenberg appreciate that her style has been difficult, and that she has also made substantive mistakes that she deeply regrets.’’
The players who left the program this year said they were not aware of the Globe report before they committed to BU. In separate interviews, they said they recognize the difference between a constructively aggressive coach and a bully. They described Greenberg as the latter.
“All the yelling and screaming about basketball was fine,’’ Joynes said. “Basketball is a contact sport. We have all played for tough coaches. But I went to BU because I believed [Greenberg] was a great coach, and I was shocked by how it turned out.’’
Two of the women — Joynes and Theobald — said they had experienced emotional challenges in high school but none related to their coaches and none as serious as the problems they allege Greenberg caused. They said they sought mental health care at BU because of her.
“She didn’t treat us like human beings at all,’’ Theobald said.
The four women said it was not uncommon for Greenberg to assail them as “horrible’’ and unworthy teammates, especially when they were injured.
Joynes said she reported feeling suicidal after Greenberg described her as an uncaring and selfish teammate after she suffered a concussion. She said she reported her suicidal thoughts to a BU staffer and was rushed by ambulance to a hospital.
“It was very scary,’’ Joynes said. “I was blaming everything on myself because of the way I had been treated. I knew deep inside that it wasn’t me, but I was too afraid to say it was [Greenberg] because she didn’t make me feel supported.’’
Only two players who left the team — Gallo and Poppe — were consistent contributors on the court.
Theobald and Joynes were entering their sophomore years and had been expected to play more prominent roles in the coming years.
Gallo, a senior guard from northern Virginia, started nine games this year and played in 25 before she departed after the final game of the regular season. She said she gave Greenberg a letter listing some of the hurtful comments the coach had made while treating her like a “punching bag.’’
Gallo said Greenberg blasted her as a selfish, mistake-prone “shell of a person’’ who did not care about the program and was “not a good member of the team.’’
Gallo, like the others who left the team, stressed that she loved everything about BU but Greenberg.
“I came here to play the game I loved, and I fell in love with the school,’’ Gallo said. “But I discovered that when you play for Coach Greenberg, you don’t play the game you love. You play her game, an emotional game that is not about basketball.’’
Poppe, a sophomore guard who starred in the New York City area before she arrived at BU, started 10 games for the Terriers and appeared in 16 before she parted ways with Greenberg with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Poppe’s teammates said her relationship with Greenberg turned bad after Poppe suffered hand and ankle injuries. Poppe said in an interview that she left the team because she felt emotionally abused by Greenberg, but she declined to comment further because she wants to stay at BU and does not want to be seen as criticizing the school.
As for the other women, Gallo plans to graduate in May and enter the hospitality industry. Joynes, the first member of her family to attend college, said she is researching schools and financial aid and hopes to transfer in the fall. Theobald, too, plans to transfer, but not to play basketball.
“I left BU hating the sport I loved,’’ she said. “I don’t want to take the chance of going through something like that ever again.’’Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.