Ex-Holy Cross basketball player alleges verbal and physical abuse by her coach

In this March 7, 2013 photo, Holy Cross' Ashley Cooper, left, is pressured by Lehigh's Becky Guman, during a Patriot League quarterfinal NCAA college basketball game in Worcester, Mass. Steve Lanava,AP Photo/The Telegram & Gazette

BOSTON A former Holy Cross basketball player has sued the college and veteran coach Bill Gibbons, accusing him of emotionally and physically abusing her and the school of covering it up.

The lawsuit by 20-year-old Ashley Cooper says that at various times, Gibbons yanked and pulled her by the shirt collar, shook her by the shoulder and struck her on the back, leaving a red handprint. It paints Gibbons as so volatile that opposing players would remark, "Your coach is crazy," and the players as so demoralized that alumni basketball games are impossible because players won't return to the Jesuit school in Worcester to participate.

The suit accuses Holy Cross of failing to turn over game tape that would show Gibbons striking Cooper and another player. It says the school has also refused to release results of an investigation into Gibbons' behavior.

Cooper gave up a full scholarship and left the school amid fear of physical pain and retaliation for complaining about Gibbons, according to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in New York City.

Because of the abuse, "Cooper and other players suffered a loss of self-esteem and a loss of their love of the game of basketball," the suit said.

Cooper is seeking compensation for the costs of the college education she'll have to pay for after giving up her scholarship, as well as unspecified punitive damages, according to her attorney, Elizabeth Eilender.

In a statement, school spokeswoman Ellen Ryder said the "physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of our students is our highest priority at Holy Cross."

Ryder said the school had previously investigated complaints by Cooper, but her statement did not disclose the results of the investigation. A request for more details on the investigation was left Wednesday with the school. Ryder also said Cooper's lawsuit "includes a series of new allegations and we will now bring in outside counsel to review them."

Gibbons did not immediately return an email sent Wednesday seeking comment.

According to the school's website, Gibbons is entering his 29th season at the helm of the women's basketball program and he's compiled a 533-315 record. He has led the team to 11 Patriot League championships.

Cooper, of Colts Neck, N.J., played in 21 of Holy Cross' 32 games last season, averaging 4.7 points per game and hitting 40 percent of her 3-point shots. She has transferred to New York University but is not on the women's basketball team, Eilender said.

The lawsuit says Gibbons' behavior was worse than Rutger's men's basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired this spring after practice tape surfaced showed him berating and kicking playersand throwing basketballs at them.

In the suit, Cooper says she's bringing legal action "not only on her own behalf but also on behalf of all women athletes who are abused by their coaches under the grossly offensive rationale that the abusive behavior is 'motivational.'"

Last week, Georgetown women's basketball coach Keith Brown resigned after an investigation into unprofessional conduct and inappropriate language as alleged by some of his players.

Brown lasted just one season, posting a 15-16 record.

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