Tough Love or Verbal Abuse? Former Lobos line up on both sides of Mike Bradbury controversy

“I don’t care how f—ed up in the head you are, and I don’t care if what I say f—s you up even more!”

— Mike Bradbury screaming at one of his Lobo basketball players during practice, according to multiple sources of the coach’s alleged verbal abuse. The quote was allegedly said to a player who was “socially awkward” and the rant brought the practice to a standstill.

Feature photo: Lobo women’s coach Mike Bradbury (Daily Lobo).
Copyright Enchantment Sports and Tick Talk Media Productions

By Mark Smith

Enchantment Sports

Editor in Chief

Nearly a dozen former players and staffers — including ex-Olympian and former University of New Mexico strength and conditioning coach Carla Garrett — told Enchantment Sports they bolted out of the Lobo women’s basketball program because of its “toxic environment” and consistent verbal abuse by coach Mike Bradbury and even assistant Valerie King.

All said they weren’t surprised that three players left the program in recent weeks and there was a horrific divide among teammates, with the animosity spilling over to the floor during games and even one physical altercation between players in a coach’s office.

“There were players who wouldn’t even pass to others in games because they didn’t want them to get any glory,” said one former Lobo. “Players didn’t even speak to other players. It was horrible.”

However, many other current and former players under Bradbury, in his fourth season, are defending the coach.

On Friday, 11 former players put their name to a letter that was sent out on Twitter attempting to discredit former Lobo Jayda Bovero’s accusations against Bradbury and to head off further media scrutiny.

However, there are numerous others making similar accusations against Bradbury and King.

The letter states that Bradbury was under investigation by the school for his alleged abuse but he was cleared.

See the letter here.

“We felt like we needed to be their voice and let people know there is another side of the story, and these complaints are false,” former Lobo Emily Lines, who graduated in 2019, told Enchantment Sports. “They did a full investigation and found nothing. These claims are false.”

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Emily Lines

The letter, however, simply threw gasoline on the fire.

“What investigation? That’s a lie,” former Lobo N’Dea Flye told Enchantment Sports on Friday. “Nobody from UNM has reached out to us to ask us what happened. There are at least six or seven of us who left and communicated today, and none of us have been asked anything by anyone at UNM. That’s really got us upset.”

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N’Dea Flye

UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez wouldn’t use the word investigation, but told Enchantment Sports, “Everything that has been brought to our attention has been looked into and reviewed. And we will continue to do that.

“It’s very important to myself and the president of the university to treat individuals with respect, and to make sure whatever concerns they have is investigated and properly  interpreted by human resources.”

Bradbury has refused multiple requests for comment to Enchantment Sports, which has been investigating the accusations since Jayla Everett became the third player to quit the team this season last week.

But while many players are backing Bradbury, even they acknowledge a rift between teammates.

bradbury
Photo: GoLobos.com

“I hope Bradbury airs all y’all out and then sues y’all for slander,” McClure posted on Twitter. “I would have sung like a bird about what he put up with. … Nothing but love for UNM & the coaching staff.”

It’s not uncommon for there to be some tension when a new coach takes over, which Bradbury did in 2016 after Yvonne Sanchez was fired by former athletic director Paul Krebs in 2016 after five seasons at UNM.

The firing was controversial as Sanchez, a native New Mexican, was a popular figure with many fans. She had a 77-81 record but the Lobos were 38-28 in her last two seasons with a 23-13 record in the Mountain West Conference.

Only two of those speaking out against Bradbury and King — former Lobo player Jayda Bovero and Garrett — wanted their names used in this story.

Flye, who now plays at Butler, would only comment about the letter on Twitter, but would not talk about specific accusations against the program.

Both Bovero and Garrett said they met with Nuñez and/or deputy athletic director Janice Ruggerio about the verbal abuse and team dissension as far back as 2017.

Nuñez was hired in August of 2017, while Ruggerio has been the school’s senior female administrator for 17 years.

“It’s evident the school hasn’t done anything about it,” says Bovero, who lives in Los Angeles. She and said she met with Bradbury and Nuñez about the coach’s mistreatment of players and numerous in-house issues just prior to the 2018-19 season.

Bovero photo
Jayda Bovero says verbal abuse by Lobo women’s basketball coach Mike Bradbury and Val King is the main reason that more than 20 players have left the program in the past four years (courtesy/Jayda Bovero).

“That’s why everyone keeps leaving. I’ve counted 22 players and staff who have quit during Mike’s four years.”

Everett, a sophomore and the Mountain West freshman of the year last year, and seniors Najala Howell and Bride Kennedy-Hopoate all quit in recent weeks.

When asked if he was told about specific allegations against Bradbury on Tuesday, Nuñez told Enchantment Sports he could not comment because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a law that protects the privacy of student education records.

“In general, any issues that need to be reviewed for employees is passed along to Human Resources,” Nuñez said. “Anytime there is any kind of concern or question about student athletes, coaches or anybody involved in athletics, we’ve taken it seriously and will continue to do our due diligence to address any outcome with the right procedures.”

Nuñez said he, too, is also prevented from talking because of the FERPA law.

“The athletic department cannot comment,” Nuñez said. “FERPA prohibits any matters dealing with student/athletes.”

Garrett, who resigned as the UNM women’s strength and conditioning coach in 2018, said she met with Nuñez and Ruggerio during her exit interview that year.

“I told them it was a bad environment,” said Garrett, who was raised in Santa Fe. “I had a lot of girls in my office complaining. You can see by the amount of people who’ve left, that I wasn’t the only one who felt like that.

“There was a lot of cursing at the girls. It was demeaning in terms of their capabilities as basketball players being told that, ‘You’re the worst f-ing basketball player I’ve ever seen. Go back to your f-ing city. Get the F out of this drill.”

However, Garrett said she has not been in contact with any current players and doesn’t know why the three left recently.

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Ex-Olympian Carla Garrett is in three Halls of Fame, including the New Mexico Sports HOF.

She said she has no reason not to believe the former players who are backing Bradbury on Twitter but said nobody should doubt the players who say they had horrific experiences in the program.

“Girls are going to have different experiences,” Garrett said. “It doesn’t mean either side isn’t telling the truth. If you are berated every day, then you are going to feel one way. If weren’t, you can feel another way.

“Unfortunately, it’s all spilled over this way, but (Bradbury) definitely treated some girls differently than others.”

Cherise Beynon, who graduated from UNM in 2018, said Bradbury was hard on players and cursed a lot, “but it wasn’t personal. It wasn’t verbal abuse.”

And another source, who did not want to be named but is close to the program, said it appears Bradbury has changed this season.

“He was very intense, and did curse the players a lot in previous years,” that person said. “Mike did meet with administrators. He has toned it from what I know.

valerie king
A number of former Lobo women’s basketball players say assistant coach Valerie King, left, is another reason for the verbal abuse in the program (GoLobos.com).

“There are a lot of reasons players leave. I believe there were other issues why the three  players left recently.”

Still, three former players said they have close friends on this year’s team who they talk to regularly and say many issues remain.

“One of them calls me crying about how bad it is,” said the former Lobo, who now plays at another school. “She can’t come out and tell the truth or he would make it much worse for her.”

“There are definitely a lot of girls who played for Mike and like him,” said another who is also playing at another university. “But he treats players differently, and that causes a lot of the problems between players.

“You can see how there are still issues. Look at all the talent they have and all the games they’re losing.”

The Lobos were picked to finish second in the Mountain West Conference, but they are second from the bottom in the 11-team league. After starting the season 6-0, New Mexico is 11-10 and 2-6 in the Mountain West heading into Saturday’s home game against Nevada.

Time to belittle

Numerous former players said the verbal abuse was constant during practice, but even happened in games.

“And whenever you mention abuse by Mike, you have to mention it from Val King as well,”  Bovero said. “It was half and half with the two of them. They were both just as bad.”

The Book

One former player said that Bradbury called a timeout in the second half of one of the Lobos’ WNIT games in 2018 just to rip into Flye with an F-bomb-laced tirade.

“Everyone on the bench was just silent and fans in the stands could hear it. It was awful,” the player said. “He just belittled her in front of everybody.”

Flye would not comment about if that happened, but she and fellow freshmen Smith and Madi Washington all transferred out of the program after the season.

Lines said she didn’t remember if that time out tirade happened or not.

“Mike is tough and he was very hard,” Lines said. “And people take coaching and the things he said differently. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. I think everyone takes his coaching differently; his style. And it’s not for everybody. … I think it’s fair to say that some of the players didn’t get along with him, but at the same time I think it’s taking it way too far to say there was verbal abuse going on.”

Lines said she didn’t know why Bovero “is bringing this back up again after it’s already been investigated.”

After Enchantment Sports told her that many others are backing Bovero’s story of verbal abuse, Lines said, “Jayda was the only one involved with the investigation last year, that’s all I knew. I can’t speak about other players or the staff.”

Bovero said that in 2017, she and former Lobo Hannah Sjerven sent letters to the NCAA documenting Bradbury’s alleged abuse and requesting a waiver to allow Sjerven an extra year of eligibility. The NCAA turned down the request.

Sjerven, who transferred out of UNM that year, is now at the University of South Dakota. She could not be reached for comment.

High NoonBovero played three years at UNM, but just one under Bradbury before quitting after her junior season. She said she was confident things would improve in the program after her meeting with Bradbury, Nuñez and Ruggerio in 2018.

“They were investigating Mike (in 2018) because players and parents were complaining to the administration about how abusive and demeaning he was,” Bovero said. “During our meeting (with Bradbury, Nuñez and Ruggerio), Mike seemed sincere. It was an emotional conversation from both sides.

“Mike seemed as though he wanted to change and implement change, and Eddie was there to help reinforce those changes. But it’s evident that not much has changed, considering there are multiple people quit since then.

“I’ve had multiple people reach out to me, both current and former players, asking me how best to handle the situation because they know I have tried to handle it for myself.”

Trick or Tweets

When reached by Enchantment Sports on Jan. 19, both Kennedy-Hopoate and Howell would not comment about the accusations against Bradbury or give reasons why they left the program.

Last month on Twitter, Kennedy-Hopoate said “The truth will always come to light!!”

“I’m not ready to comment yet,” she said. “Right now, I’m just focusing on school and trying to graduate this semester.”

On Wednesday, KRQE ran a report in which it interviewed Bovero about the alleged verbal abuse. Asked if the story, which included comments from Bovero, was  true, she said, “It was accurate.”

Multiple sources said Kennedy-Hopoate has retained an attorney for a case against UNM, but she did not confirm or deny if she had.

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Najala Howell

Howell is also still in school at UNM. She and Kennedy-Hopoate said they are still on scholarship.

 

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Bride Kennedy-Hopoate

“They can’t speak up and tell the truth,” one source told Enchantment Sports, “or UNM could take their scholarships away. That’s how the school operates.”

Everett, who numerous sources said was pampered and a prima donna, reportedly got into a heated argument with Bradbury during practice on Jan. 17 and quit the team that day.

The Lobos lost to UNLV 68-51 at home the next day, but Everett attended the game and cheered for New Mexico.

That day, Bovero tweeted, “To all my New Mexico basketball fans/boosters/supporters/residents have y’all ever wondered why there’s been 20 people leave the wbb program in 3 years? That’s a mix between players and staff members.”

While Bovero’s tweet didn’t mention the coaching staff, Everett responded via Twitter with, “Don’t include me i left for personal reasons nothing to do with the coaching staff !!”

On Sunday, a number of current and former players then went on Twitter to defend Bradbury, with some criticizing Bovero.

Senior Asia Robertson posted, “People just don’t know how to stay in their lane,” and Nike McClure, a senior last season, tweeted, “The question that nobody is asking is how the PLAYERS feel now that those individuals are gone?”

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Many of Mike Bradbury’s former players back the coach and say that he is tough but they appreciated him as their mentor (courtesy/UNM).

One of the former Lobos who is at another school said, “I think a lot of that is a front to make the program look better than what it is, like none of this stuff is actually going on.”

Another said the tweeting “is mostly for the fans, because I know a lot of fans like to follow the players. Truth be told, we all know what’s going on behind closed doors. Look at everybody who’s left. It’s a pattern.”

Speaking for those who can’t

Those who spoke to Enchantment Sports on the condition of anonymity said they didn’t want to use their names in fear of retaliation from UNM, social media and elsewhere.Windsor

“It’s very valid to be concerned about retaliation,” said Garrett, an Albuquerque native who was raised in Santa Fe. “The retaliation might come in different forms; not getting released (to transfer), being blackballed, you don’t want to be seen as a troublemaker.

“If you’re still on the team, you may not play and may have hazing from teammates that don’t agree with your stance.”

One of the former players said that after she transferred, Bradbury “ripped me to other coaches who were trying to recruit me.”

Another said, “Any time you see a player is leaving for ‘personal reasons,’ the reasons are to get away from Mike.”DSC_4204.JPG

Garrett is one of the most decorated and respected athletes in state history. She is a member of three halls of fame.

She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in sociology and minor degree in nutrition and food sciences. She was a 10-time NCAA All-American in the shot put and discus and a three-time NCAA champion in both events. She was also two-time silver medalist at the World Weightlifting Championships, won a silver medal in the discus in the world championships and competed in the 1992 Olympics.

“I have been going back and forth about if it was the right thing for me to speak (for this story),” she said. “But I know if I don’t,  and I just continue to live my life, that in a roundabout way that means I’m condoning what I saw; I’m condoning what I listened to.

“And I don’t condone it; and I didn’t.”

Garrett, who is the strength and conditioning coach at Pima (Tucson, Ariz.) Community College and also works with a private Catholic High School in the area, said she didn’t hold back about Bradbury during her meeting with Nuñez and Ruggerio.

“There was so much cursing at you,” Garrett said of Bradbury. “I curse when I coach. But his was not in a coaching way, not like, ‘We’ve got to get our (shit) together or what the F are we doing?’ It was cursing at the girls. It was personal. It became too much.”

Garrett said that after her exit interview she was contacted by UNM’s human resources department.El Pintojpg

“I told HR the exact story I told the administration,” said Garrett, who worked under former coach Sanchez for one year and two under Bradbury. “That was my dream job. I told them that I had moved back to New Mexico, I’m from New Mexico, I grew up in New Mexico. It was my dream job and I assumed it was going to be my last job.

“It was a very difficult decision to leave the program — but an easy decision as well because of the way it was making me feel.”

Bovero played two years under Sanchez. Her last season was Bradbury’s first with the Lobos in 2016-17.

Bovero, then a junior, and freshman teammates Sjerven and Brittany Panetti all left the program after that season. Sjerven transferred to South Dakota and Panetti to North Alabama.

Bovero remained in classes at UNM but didn’t play again.

All three were recruited by Sanchez.

Bovero, who is a professional model and aspiring actress, did not comment publicly when she quit the Lobos in 2017 and Bradbury did not give a reason.

“It’s an extremely toxic environment; it’s been toxic ever since Mike took over the program,” Bovero said. “He is a genius when it comes to the game of basketball; probably the best basketball mind I’ve ever been around.

Lobo women vs AFA
Jayla Everett was freshman of the year last season in the Mountain West Conference (GoLobos.com).

“But he’s an abusive person. That’s why everyone is leaving.”

One former Lobo who is playing at another school said there were a lot of players who liked Bradbury, and said “I don’t think Mike’s a bad person. He was really good to me off the court.

“But it was mentally draining. It was like being in an abusive relationship. It was like a spouse who abuses you and then says he loves you. I couldn’t take it any more and had to get out.”

Life is tough enough 

All former Lobos contacted for this story who are still playing said they have had no issues with with their current coaches or teammates.

As far as the possibility that Bradbury and the program have changed this year, Garrett said she never heard back from UNM’s human resources but she truly hopes that something was done to squelch the abuse.

“It’s not 1975 any more,” Garrett said. “You can’t demean, and (Bradbury) did that daily. These girls are somebody’s daughter, sister, niece. At the end of the day they are young people, some not even 20 years old, being told horrific things about themselves, not only as basketball players but as human beings.

“People forget that it’s a sport that girls are trying to better themselves at, but they’re also just trying to live their lives. There’s nothing more difficult than growing up and being a young woman in the society today, and there are so many things that are against you.

“The last place where you want people to be against you is a safe sanctuary, like your sport. To be in there to be demeaned, to be cursed at and to be told that you’re less than what you are on the daily, is very detrimental.”


Mark Smith mugMark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio and has been honored nationally for investigative reporting. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

One comment

  1. Kind of a he-said, she-said scenario — except for Garrett, a much-respected athlete/trainer, who wasn’t worried about playing time or taking away of scholarships. Her comments are the most compelling. Bradbury does seem like a nice guy and a good coach but his passion for the game (and winning) sounds like they need to be expressed better.

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