Just months after then-sophomore Yuta Watanabe, a rising star, and the George Washington men’s basketball team captured the National Invitation Tournament title in New York, Colonials players have made allegations of abuse by coach Mike Lonergan, as reported Thursday by The Washington Post.
The university has launched an investigation, the school confirmed in a statement.
The GW Colonials are scheduled to visit Japan in August. The team has a three-game series lined up against the Japan national team on Aug. 13 (Osaka), 16 (Tokyo) and 19 (Hamamatsu), with another contest against the B. League’s Ryukyu Golden Kings on Aug. 21 in Okinawa.
Brian Sereno, the school’s executive director of athletics communications, did not immediately respond to an email inquiry from The Japan Times that asked if the team’s trip is in jeopardy. Sereno issued an email statement from embattled athletic director Patrick Nero on Friday.
“Our men’s basketball team is looking forward to their goodwill tour of Japan next month as ambassadors of the game of basketball and GW. This will be an excellent experience for our team to grow as people and bond together ahead of the 2016-17 season,” Nero said.
The Washington Post reported that “some players have complained about ‘verbal and emotional abuse, as well as player mistreatment’ by the coach, but thus far there have not been any public consequences for him.’ ”
“As reported today by The Washington Post, the George Washington University is undertaking a Title IX review of allegations against the men’s basketball coach Mike Lonergan,” read the school’s statement. “Some of the reported allegations go beyond the scope of Title IX, and university is bringing in outside counsel to assist in its investigation. The university expects full cooperation and will not tolerate retaliation during the course of the investigation. We will also continue to inform the student-athletes on our men’s basketball team of the university’s support and of the resources available to them.”
Lonergan is entering his sixth season at the helm.
“I will not respond to anonymous, unfound allegations,” Lonergan told The Washington Post via email. “These types of accusations have already been investigated by the University and found to be groundless.”
He added: “Those who know me know that I conduct myself and run my program with integrity. . . . .”
In the same report, the newspaper cited five unnamed current and former players alleging that Lonergan said that Nero asked for practice tapes “so he could masturbate while viewing them in his office.” It was also alleged by the players that Lonergan said “Nero engaged in a sexual relationship with a member of the team.”
Among the other allegations reported by the Post: Lonergan “told one player his son would always be on food stamps. He told another, in front of the team, he should transfer to a ‘transgender league,’ multiple players said.”
In an email to The Japan Times, Watanabe said of the investigation that he “could not comment and will only focus on his academics and basketball.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report