NCAA women’s tournament features 12 black female coaches
Dawn Staley has a sheepish smile, which turns into a smile after a quick glance at the Greensboro area of the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
There’s a sense of pride that emanates from the South Carolina basketball coach when she sees people like her doing what she does and being given the chance to succeed.
Including Staley, five of the twelve black coaches in the women’s tournament are in the Greensboro portion of the group. The 12 coaches double the number of black women who coached teams in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Although there is still a lot of work to be done, Staley said it was a sign of success.
“When you give people an opportunity that they don’t often get and they succeed, that’s kind of what happens. I think it’s popular now. Like it was probably popular … when coach (Jolette) Law got the job in Illinois,” Staley said in 2007 of her Gamecocks assistant.
“A lot of black coaches had opportunities during that time,” Staley added. “And then probably three, four years later, 75% of them weren’t head coaches anymore, and they’re not retrained like other coaches. So I now think black coaches are better prepared because they had to be prepared.
Staley will face one of those black coaches, Howard’s Ty Grace, when his top-seeded Gamecocks take on the Bison on Friday. Grace led Howard to a victory in the first inaugural Women’s Four on Wednesday, defeating Incarnate Word in Columbia, South Carolina.
After Howard’s victory, Grace and Staley had a quick exchange in a hallway of the arena that was more about what could be than what was said.
“We just said hello because the teams were passing by and we looked up as they passed by. You know, she just said she was happy to have us here and she was happy for me,” said Grace. “She wished me luck. She said, ‘I’ll see you on Friday.'”
Staley wishes he could say that more often to a black coach.
Still, it might take some time. There has been marginal progress in the hiring process.
Of the nine openings at Power Five schools this season, only two black women have filled those vacancies: Wisconsin’s Marisa Moseley and Auburn’s Johnnie Harris. Counting the two hires, of the 65 Power Five schools, 12 had black women leading their basketball programs this season. And while neither Wisconsin nor Auburn are in the tournament, they’re moving in the right direction: Both finished with more wins than last year.
There are already a handful of Power Five openings for the upcoming season, including Texas A&M, Virginia and Syracuse. And there would appear to be a potential pool of NCAA Tournament candidates with six black women from non-Power Five schools.
One of them is Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack.
She played for Orange and retired her jersey at school. She has been mentioned as a possible candidate for her alma mater and believes the success of black women breaks down barriers.
“People notice they’re black and they’re winning,” she said. “But also that their messages are so incredible. More doors are opening to at least get interviews for black coaches. Seeing so many succeed and reach the NCAAs can only help to get more opportunities.
Legette-Jack has Buffalo back in the NCAA Tournament where the Bulls will face Tennessee. She led Buffalo to their first Sweet 16 in 2018 before losing to Staley’s Gamecocks.
She had been fired by Indiana when the Bulls gave her a second chance, a move that paid off for Buffalo.
“You used to see coaches who didn’t look like us get a job, lose a job, and get hired again,” Legette-Jack said. “It’s like their birthright. But now you have the feeling that things are changing.
Staley has been a leader for this change and although she deflects all credit, her credentials and success in South Carolina cannot be overlooked.
The Olympic gold medalist and national team coach has brought the Gamecocks into one of the best programs in the country, which attracts the most fans every year. Staley also signed a landmark women’s contract, signing a seven-year, $22.4 million contract earlier this season.
“I am in awe of her. I am a groupie. She is so awesome and graceful,” Legette-Jack said. “You call it and you think you’re the most special person in the world. She does it with everyone.
The other black coaches in the tournament are: Adia Barnes, Arizona; Niele Ivey, Notre Dame; Kyra Elzy, Kentucky; Shereka Wright, UT-Arlington; Joni Taylor, Georgia; Yolett McPhee-McCuin, Ole Miss, Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, Missouri State; Natasha Adair, Delaware; and Tomekia Reed, Jackson State,
Staley is the oldest of the group; Ivey, Elzy and Wright have the shortest stints at their respective schools – all were hired in 2020.
Wright was a longtime assistant having worked at Texas Tech, Alabama and Vanderbilt before finally getting a chance with UT-Arlington.
“I waited my turn and really had to learn how to be an assistant coach to get into that head coaching seat,” said Wright, who led the Mavericks to their first NCAA appearance since 2007. “I interviewed for a few jobs, but it ended up being a great situation for me.
Wright, along with the other black coaches at the tournament, was among 70 who received a piece of Staley’s 2017 NCAA Championship net. The oft-repeated gesture was meant to help inspire them.
Barnes has hers taped on a computer screen so she sees it every day.
“Dawn first told me about the net when she was with me at USA Basketball. She was going to give me the piece of net. I thought that was amazing. I thought I was the only one in it. to have one. so it was amazing that she gave it to everyone. It shows how selfless she is.
Barnes shared the sport’s biggest stage with Staley last year when they became the first two black women in a Final Four.
They hope this won’t be the last time as more doors slowly open at the top level of women’s football.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this story.
More AP Women’s College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https https://twitter.com/AP_Top25