Any chance the school’s recruiting might include more local Black females?
First-year Minnesota Women’s Basketball Coach Marlene Stollings, as expected, has made the rounds, getting to know the landscape outside the historically self-sheltered confines of the U of M campus. Unexpectedly, this has included meeting with Black folk.
A meet-and-greet was hosted by Black Gopher alums, followed by a breakfast-time appearance at Heritage Park. Is the coach’s introductory tour in the hood for show or for real?
“I’m wishing her and her staff well,” says Gopher alum Jamiela Taylor, who attended the small invitation-only gathering in June.
“You always want to welcome the new coach to the city,” adds fellow former Gopher Crystal Flint.
Stollings then took questions from a mostly Black male audience at a monthly breakfast meeting at Heritage Park in North Minneapolis on her recruiting intentions, especially in regards to Black females in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. This has been a historical, seemingly perennial knock against the Gopher women’s program.
“I’m very well aware of the issue,” responded the coach. “We are going after the best players we can get, regardless of skin color.”
“We got the standard response,” says former sportswriter Ray Richardson — the Gophers once was his beat. “That to me is one reason why the program is down where it is,” because of its scarcity of Black players over the years.
“I’ve been around Minnesota basketball basically all my life,” adds Jim Robinson. “Minnesota tried to find players who are non-African American to try to compete at the same level [against] predominately teams of color. I don’t know whether there’s an ‘in-house sanction’ on [the school] to only want so many African American players.”
“I know she is eager to make the team extremely competitive,” notes De La Salle Girls’ Basketball Coach Faith Johnson Patterson, who says she met with Stollings this summer. “She has reached out to me, but it remains to be seen if they [she and her staff] are going to be in my gym or not. I’ve had thousands of conversations with college coaches, but the ones that are in my gym I have relationships with.”
“She has to be visible in this community,” continues Richardson. “She has to be visible in these schools, visible during the summer, and get to know these parents, and get to know these girls, too. You can’t recruit all the Minnesota players, but can she go outside Minnesota and beat out some other schools for top players? I’m not talking about those small-town girls — she’s got to get the girls that are ranked nationally.”
“It’s still too new and too early to say. We’ll see,” surmises Johnson Patterson. “I’m a little skeptical, to be honest with you… If she reaches out to the city kids, I think the chances of keeping a lot more of our athletes here in town are favorable.”
The demographics are changing in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. “African Americans [are] all over the place,” adds the hall of fame coach. She strongly urges Stollings to “develop the relationships with [in-state] high school coaches in general, and not just the AAU programs.”
“It’s up to the staff to be consistent in reaching out to the community, letting the community know that the university is welcome to everyone,” states Flint.
“We’re very open to doing as much as possible when people ask us to come and be present at these types of events,” said Stollings after her tour appearance at Heritage Park. However, the overarching question is whether or not this openness the new Gopher coach refers to is for Whites and non-Whites alike.
“I wish her well,” concludes Robinson.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.