ALBANY — The University at Albany continues to decline information and interview requests from reporters regarding its ongoing investigation into its men’s basketball program and head coach Dwayne Killings.
The coach also isn’t speaking publicly — yet — about the investigation.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who want to talk about it publicly, though.
A group of city leaders and activists called a press conference at the Fort Orange Club on Thursday afternoon to passionately voice their support for Killings, their desire for the school to demonstrate better transparency related to the inquiry and for due process to be followed during the investigation.
The men’s basketball program is under scrutiny for an alleged incident involving physical contact between Killings and one of his players before a game in November. That alleged incident, the university said Monday, was first reported to it in late February, shortly before the Great Danes’ 2021-22 season — Killings’ first at the program’s helm — ended with a March 6 loss to Hartford in the America East Conference quarterfinals.
The school’s now-monthlong investigation into the alleged incident first became public Monday with a report from Stadium’s college basketball reporter Jeff Goodman.
At Thursday’s press conference, community leaders said what’s at stake for Killings supporters is the message of hope to the marginalized people in their communities that Killings represents, as a Black man serving as head coach of a Division I basketball team.
And it’s not just symbolic. Since UAlbany hired him, the 40-year-old Killings and his wife Ana have been active in the community with organizations like Hood’s House of Hoops.
“My job is to help young men and women to understand the importance of life, through basketball,” program founder Jamil Hood said. “Part of that is to bring individuals together from different organizations to give our kids that hope. And that hope came through our door less than a year ago, with the hiring of coach Killings.
“We’re located at 340 First Street. It’s crime-ridden. There’s a high poverty rate. With all that being said, the kids that come to our program need to see individuals like coach Killings, police officers, firefighters, doctors, lawyers, former gang members, to understand that there is hope.”
“The community’s really concerned about what’s going on here with this particular issue,” said Alice Green, executive director of The Center for Law and Justice. “It’s very important, also, for our community to have among us very positive Black men who can be models and can guide our young people. They’ve found someone at the university to do that, and that’s coach Killings. It’s part of our community, not separate, so what goes on there affects all of us.
“We want to make sure that we see [that] this process, that so far has not really been communicated to the community, [is fair]. We can no longer continue to decide who should be a part of our community without due process. So we will be following this. We will be speaking out about it.”
A Great Danes athletic department spokesperson referred all inquiries related to the school’s men’s basketball program to the university’s media relations team. Not long after the conclusion of the event at Fort Orange Club in Albany in support of Killings, the university’s media relations department released a statement that continued the trend of school officials offering up little detail regarding the investigation.
The university’s statement released Thursday, in full, reads: “The University at Albany’s top priority is supporting the health and well-being of our students and employees in an environment that is inclusive and equitable. While the University recognizes and understands this is a matter of public interest and that there may be incomplete information circulating publicly, it cannot disclose information that would violate student privacy and will not discuss personnel matters publicly. The University is committed to a process that is full, fair, equitable and respectful of the rights of everyone involved — and to conducting this process in good faith.”
Following the release of that statement, a school spokesperson referred back to it when asked a follow-up question regarding Thursday’s event at Fort Orange Club and said that the university is not making president Havidan Rodriguez or athletic director Mark Benson available for comment.
The basketball player involved in the alleged incident has been reported to be Luke Fizulich, a walk-on guard who entered into the NCAA transfer portal less than three weeks after the season ended. Fizulich, who did not appear to be with the team for its final two games of the season, has not responded this week to requests for comments from The Daily Gazette.
Meanwhile, an attempt to contact Killings was responded to Thursday by Steven Greenberg of Greenberg Public Relations in Clifton Park, who is “working with the coach” and said that Killings “can’t speak at this moment,” but “will do that sometime soon.”
“I assure you, he is eager, and he will talk as soon as he can,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg said he started representing Killings this week. Greenberg declined to comment on the school’s investigation into its men’s basketball program and also said he couldn’t comment on whether Killings is currently on leave from his position at the school, which has been reported, but not confirmed by the school.
Besides Green and Hood, the former Green Tech boys’ basketball coach who led the school to a state championship in 2014, the group at Thursday’s press conference included Rev. Leonard Comithier, pastor of the Macedonia Baptist Church; businessman Marcus Pryor, who has served on several community boards; restaurateur and philanthropist Dominick Purnomo; Anthony Gaddy, president of the Upstate New York Black Chamber of Commerce; and educator Kathleen McLean.
Pryor said he reached out to Rodriguez on Monday to discuss the Killings issue, but was told the school president is traveling on university business. Pryor did have a discussion with Killings.
“This is a man who’s invested his life to come here,” Pryor said. “He’s distraught, and he’s scared, and he wants to be here.
“He’s afraid that his life’s dream is about to be ripped from him. I’m not a lawyer. We haven’t gone into details, but I know he’s scared that he’s about to be taken from a community that he took a big risk on and loves being a part of.”
Killings — who replaced Will Brown as UAlbany’s head coach — signed a five-year contract to guide the Great Danes in March 2021. Killings’ current rate of pay, according to the database available at www.seethroughny.net, is $372,300.
A native of Amherst, Massachusetts, Killings spent three seasons at Marquette before he was hired at UAlbany. Prior to that, he also worked at Boston University, UConn and Temple at the college level, and also worked with the then-Charlotte Bobcats and in the NBA’s then-D-League.