- Associated Press - Thursday, October 8, 2015

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Even before now-former players accused him of running a racially hostile program, Illinois women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant sensed the atmosphere in the locker room and the tone of the program needed to change.

At the team’s media day Thursday, Bollant said close losses last season weighed on the team.

“Before any of that happened, I said this needs to be a reflection of me,” the fourth-year coach said. “Moving forward it’s going to be my voice. Anyone who knows me knows I’m optimistic.”

The accusations against Bollant and now-former assistant Mike Divilbiss followed the 15-16 season, one in which the team lost seven straight.

The lawsuit accused the coaches of holding segregated practices for less-favored players, using more severe discipline for black players, barring white and black players from rooming together and using derogatory terms for black players, among other things.

The allegations became public in May and, in July, the subject of an ongoing lawsuit filed seven now-former players.

Divilbiss left the team, but an outside law firm hired by the university said the allegations were unfounded, and Bollant kept his job.

His team heads into the season with a roster of just 11 players.

But they include 6-3 center Chatrice White, an honorable mention All Big Ten player last season and a member of the under-19 U.S. national team that won the world championship last summer. One of her opponents at that tournament, 5-7 freshman guard Jaelyne Kirkpatrick of Canada, is also on the roster.

Bollant believes his team has a chance to win some of those close games it lost last year.

“I think we took a huge step last year,” he said. “We were so close last year.”

Illinois will open the season Nov. 7 with an exhibition against Indianapolis. The Illini will play their first four regular-season games at Parkland College in Champaign while renovation work continues on the State Farm Center.

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