The list of all-time coaches to play for an NCAA championship literally is a short one, and the list of Black coaches doing this is even shorter.
Just 10 Black coaches have led their men basketball squads to Final Fours: two of them coached at Minnesota (Clem Haskins, 1997 and Tubby Smith, when he was at Kentucky in 1998). John Thompson (1982, 1984, and 1985) and Nolan Richardson (1994, 1995) are the only Black coaches to do it multiple times.
Of those Black coaches, Thompson (1984), Richardson (1995), Smith (1998) and Kevin Ollie (2014) are the only ones to win the NCAA championship.
Mike Davis (2002), the first Black coach at Indiana, joined them as the fifth Black coach to have a team play for a title. He was hired in 2000 to replace the fired Bob Knight and coached IU for six seasons. He also coached at University of Alabama Birmingham (2006-12) and Texas Southern (2012-18).
We recently talked to the longtime coach, who just finished his first season at the University of Detroit Mercy. Although his Hoosiers finished runners-up to Maryland, Davis easily remembered his team’s run to Atlanta in 2002.
“Once we got to the Final Four, it seemed like a whirlwind,” Davis recalled. “Only four teams are playing and the whole country is focused on you. It felt so surreal . . . it was a trip that you always want to experience.”
Making history as Davis did when he was first named interim coach and then given the job full time at Indiana is one thing, but he replaced the legendary Knight — oft-combative, but also popular among the school faithful.
“It was pressure but I didn’t take it personally,” Davis said. “I was just focused . . . to do something special for the program. The [Indiana] fans wanted us to win another championship.”
Looking back, “You have to experience it as you go,” continued Davis, adding that nothing really prepares you for a Final Four run. “You want the team to lock in on everything you talk about since day one,” he said. “When you talk about playing your best basketball in March, [you] talk about great attitude and great chemistry, great effort; you want them to be locked in on all that.”
Davis said that he regularly field calls about his Final Four experience: “I feel really good to get these calls and talk to them about basketball,” Davis admitted. “I noticed the respect I get. They know who I am and still talk about [it]. I inspire [other Black coaches] so much and the situation I was in.”
UDM hired Davis last August, which put the experienced coach and his staff on a fast track to assemble a competitive squad in time for the 2018-19 season. “I love the challenge. We put together a team in two weeks and signed 10 players after August 24. To sign 10 players after August 24 is a miracle in itself,” he said.
“We had a successful year. I will have a full offseason and a recruiting [time] and I think it will be pretty good,” he concluded.
Women’s Final Four reflections
The Women’s Final Four also is this weekend in Tampa. Tracy Henderson played in two of them with Georgia in 1995 and 1996.
Henderson, the Northside native who last week was inducted in the Minnesota High School Basketball Hall of Fame, briefly recalled playing in the 1995 Final Four in downtown Minneapolis.
“We always reflect and talk about [it], going to UGA then coming back to Minneapolis to play in the Final Four to showcase my talent,” noted Davis. “It was an honor, and I have been blessed over the years.”