UPDATED: December 13, 2016
BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – Just when the Indiana University Kokomo men’s and women’s basketball teams are having their best seasons in history, the program has been rocked by controversies involving its coaches. On Dec. 8 the school announced both the men’s and women’s coaches were in turmoil. Fresh off suspensions last week, women’s coach Whitney Farris abruptly resigned and men’s head coach Jace Thompson has been suspended by the school.
According to a press release issued by Danielle Rush, a communications specialist for the school, Farris, “resigned from her position December 6. Because this is a personnel matter, no additional details will be released.”
The press release also stated Thompson, “has been suspended pending the outcome of a prompt and effective investigation. Because this is a personnel matter, no additional details will be released.” IU Kokomo Athletic Director Greg Cooper referred further questions to the press release.
Last week, although never confirmed by school administrators, Thompson served a two-game suspension while Farris was suspended for one game. It is unknown if last week’s suspensions were related to the Dec. 8 announcement.
Thompson, a native of Linton, Indiana, was the first basketball coach of the Cougars when the program started with the 2011-2012 school year. He coached the squad as it became a member of the NAIA in year two and the River States Conference the following season. In six years, he has a 45-99 record.
Farris, a Kokomo High School graduate, was the first coach of the women’s squad and has a 23-45 record in three seasons. Previously, she served as the IUK sports information director and spent a year as the assistant coach with the men’s team before being promoted to the women’s position.
Third year assistant coach Alex Birge has taken over as the acting head coach of the men’s team in Thompson’s absence. Birge was also at the helm for two games during the first suspension, including a road trip to NCAA Division I Ball State University, which was broadcast on ESPN3.
It is unknown who will coach the women’s squad. Assistant coach Carlee Cottrell took over during last week’s suspension, but she is a graduate assistant and has limited hours. She missed a game on Dec. 3 because of a shortage of available work hours after filling in during Farris’ absence. According to school officials, they “hope to have more information soon” on the official state of the coaching positions.
In an email sent to school staff before the announcement was made public, IUK Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke asked for the continued support of the student-athletes involved in the basketball programs.
“As you know, we have had a very successful athletic program,” the chancellor stated in the email. “At this time, I ask that you support our student-athletes as they go through this time of transition. I hope to see you at the games this weekend.”
The Cougar women, now in its third-year as a program, is currently in first place in the West Division of the River States Conference with a 3-0 record. The team has set a school record – for any basketball team – with its current four-game win streak. With a 8-4 record, it is also the first men’s or women’s team to be over the .500 mark after 10 games.
The men have also found success – at 6-6 they are the first IUK men’s team to be at .500 or better after 12 games. And the 2-1 RSC mark is also the best conference start in the program’s six-year history.
The men swept its two games in the Cougar Classis last weekend with wins over the University of Cincinnati Clermont College (102-74) and Kentucky Christian University (91-81).
“Great two wins for the team,” said Birge. “Really glad to get back to .500 and look forward to keeping the momentum. Proud of the contributions made by everyone this weekend.”
Against Clermont, Devon Burton led the way with 17 points while Jonathan Hurt added 14 and Trent Elliott and Devan Straub each added 12. Eric Miller snatched eight rebounds.
In the win over Kentucky Christian, Elliott earned a double-double with 24 points and a career-best 11 rebounds. Durante Lee and Antoin Clifton both scored 12 while Burton and Beau Dedmond had nine each.
Through Dec. 11, Elliott was ranked No. 14 in the NAIA Division II for points in a game (22.0) and No. 28 for free throw percentage (.859). He was the River States Conference men’s basketball player of the week last week after a 34-point outing against Asbury – just four points short of his own school record.
The IUK women defeated Andrews University 86-25 on Dec. 12. The team is now on a school record five-game winning streak. Both teams return to the Cougar Gym on Dec. 30 against the Miami University Hamilton; the women tip at 5 p.m. and the men at 7 p.m.